Monday, March 21, 2022

Personal Observation on Aging


Reading "Le Figaro" by Mary Cassatt 1878

Besides my own experience of aging, I’ve read two books recently the themes of which have led me to reflect on the journey to Beyond that may include aging and aging some more and finally just being OLD!

That’s where I find myself now. In less than two weeks, I will celebrate my 86th birthday. I had such plans for my eighties. So many books I wanted to write and share with readers. So many friends here and there with whom I wanted to stay in touch—to know what was happening in their lives, how aging was going for them. Had they found contentment, fulfillment, the heartwish at the end of the rainbow of a long life?


For me, the decade of the eighties began well. I wrote daily, not with any idea of self-publishing but simply because to write was to be in the present and in Presence. Writing is quite simply a form of prayer for me in which I discover the Holy Oneness of All Creation. That is, I discover that, in truth, all has worked out for good throughout my life no matter what tragedy . . . sorrow . . . setback . . . loss has occurred.


This does not happen unless in Oneness others have supported or consoled me. Rejoiced with me. Grieved with me. Been there when my mind was muddled; my heart bruised; my spirit depleted. All who raised me; all who taught and educated me; all who have befriended me are with me still whether living or in the mystery and grace of Beyond. 


Yes, the eighties began well. The first two years, I worked on a memoir. Unable to interest an agent in representing my writing, I decided—with the help of two other women—to self-publish. My niece Linda took my words and made books; Sally, a long-time friend, created covers.  


So, in 2018, the three of us worked together to publish Prayer Wasn’t Enough: A Convent Memoir.That same year, we came out with new editions of A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Companion Book.


The Life book had been published twenty-five years before. For its anniversary, I wrote a reflection on how the book first got published. For the Legacy book, my niece did new formatting that made the book more appealing visually. 


Thus, 2018, when I was 82, was both busy and fulfilling.


In 2019, the three of us published the novel The Reluctant Spy, on which I’d worked, off and on, for twenty years. Also, that year we managed to produce another cat book—The Gift of Nine Lives—which I’d written in my late seventies.


Then . . . nothing. Not because I had nothing I wanted to write, but because I couldn’t find the motivation . . . commitment . . . energy to journey for months, or maybe years, with another book. 


What does this have to do with aging?


My observation: The furnace of accomplishment that had always flamed within me no longer warms the room in which I now reside at almost 86. For years as a free-lancer, I met numerous deadlines; worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week for a month; rested, recouped, and then began the next project.

The Fisher Girl by Winslow Homer 1894

No more. I could say that my mental capacities have waned. Or that my energy has withered. Or that I no longer cherish what used to fill me with wonder.


And maybe some of that is true. However, what is also true is that I want less responsibility. I resist being tied down to a schedule—no matter how flexible it is. I want to sit on the screened-in porch and let my mind and heart embrace with gratitude the wonder of my life. Or, simply become absorbed in the story another writer has fashioned.


In two weeks, I hope to say more about aging. More in general, not the specifics of my life. 


Peace until then. 


Both paintings from Wikipedia articles on Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer

Monday, March 7, 2022

A Column, A Book, A Realization

The digital copy of the New York Times appears daily on my computer. Its headlines keep me abreast of the news. Since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, I’ve seldom watched the national news or even the PBS NewsHour.


The truth I discovered back in 2020 is that the news distressed me, and if I let it, it plunged me into anger, confusion, and fear. 


Given that stress exacerbates most health concerns, I decided to sort of “cold turkey” listening/watching newscasts. However, I do read the NYTimes headlines—not the articles—so as to have some knowledge of what is occurring in the world beyond this room in which I find joy in writing.


For over a week, since Russia invaded the Ukraine, I have watched the PBS NewsHour. I was five when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and we entered World War II. Now, eighty years later, I’m eighty-five and find myself on tenterhooks about the possibility of a third world war.


But the NYT brings me more than news of the world beyond this small room. It offers me columns that stretch my mind, gentle my heart, and bring laughter to my belly. One of the columnists I’ve followed for several years is Frank Bruni. I delight in his phraseology and humanity. He always astounds me with the depth of his empathy and his ability to truly see that we are all united in whatever makes us human.


Bruni is now in his fifties. After a rare stroke compromised his vision several years ago, he accepted a teaching position at Duke University in North Carolina, however, he continues to write occasionally for the NYT.


During his distinguished career as a journalist, Bruni’s written four books, all of which have received accolades. His latest book, which I got from our library as an audio book read by the author, is The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found. 

In it, he shares the story of waking up to discover that his eyesight was not only diminished but erratic. Bruni announced the publication of this memoir in his column on 2-17-22, which he entitled “How Many of Us Just Fake Our Confidence and Calm?” That title led him into his own experience with vision lost and found.


In reading his column that February day, I thought of something Philo of Alexandria had said back in the final years BCE. I quoted him in my posting of July 13, 2021. This Jewish philosopher said then, “Be kind, for everyone we meet is engaged in a great battle.”


Bruni doesn’t quote Philo, but he is saying the same thing in his February posting—that we all live with, struggle with, suffer with, feel shame or despair for something that has brought us low . . . but may also raise us high. Because of that realization, life calls us to awareness and its gift of kindness.


His memoir so tenderly and gently shows us the path he’s taken to find “beauty in the dusk” of vision. And it shows us, too, that we do not need to hide the “great battle” in which we are “engaged.” Everyone we meet is struggling. So let us be aware. 


In being human, let us be One.


The URL for the column is as follows:


In today’s world can we live within ourselves and with others in peace?

Surely what is happening in the Ukraine and what is happening with those refugees from Central America who seek asylum in our country because of the violence and murders and gangs in their own country and what is happening in so many places throughout our world tells us that we must find a way to study peace, to embrace it, just as for centuries our leaders have studied war.