The world seems to be divided into two kinds of people: those who dread growing old and those who relish the latter years of life. As for me, I never thought about it much because I was too busy surviving, making ends meet, making plans, landing on my duff, then getting back up and starting all over again. Throw in a healthy dose of healing, a backpack full of dreams, and a smidgeon of love, and I was too preoccupied with living to think about getting old because, of course, I was going to live forever.
Ahem. Reality check. I won’t live forever. I’m 74 years old and time is getting short. Which side of the divide will I fall on? It’s true my life will end someday, but what about the dreams that fuel our engines? Do they disappear, or do they morph into new possibilities that might come to fruition after retirement, or even later than that?
Like stumbling into romance and finding the love of your life as an elder? Been there, done that. How about relaxing under tropical palms, sipping a glass of wine in the sun? My Florida condo was the perfect place for sea breezes and sandpipers. What about watching your progeny make good? My five grandchildren and one grandchild, ranging in age from 2 ½ to 28 – did I tell you how amazing they are? – qualify. Don’t forget writing and publishing a memoir that reveals your true self – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Check. Relocating cross country from the beautiful Adirondack Mountains to the stunning desert of Southern New Mexico is nothing to sneeze at. Double check.
Who said old age was boring, devoid of dreams, and without hope? Not me, and hopefully not you. Your list may look infinitely different from mine to reflect YOUR life, YOUR dreams, and YOUR possibilities. Nevertheless, we can all become optimists, people who fall on the carpe diem side of the divide. If that’s where you want to land, too, but sometimes have trouble lifting your feet to get there, here are some hints that might help.
There was a time when my life was so difficult that I had trouble wrapping my mind around gratitude. It seemed like a foreign country to me. As I became more self-aware and engaged with my surroundings, I found that gratitude – appreciation for what I have instead of disappointment in what I don’t have – was my guiding force. No matter how many curve balls life throws, I am lucky to be here at the age of 74. It’s certainly better than the alternative. Be grateful.
Maybe I’ll live ten more years, maybe even fifteen or twenty, just a fraction of my life as a whole. My dreams have changed over time and become more simple and easier to achieve. That doesn’t mean they aren’t big. It’s big to dream about family harmony. It’s big to dream about inner peace, even when family harmony is off-key. It’s big to dream about balance in my life – happy relationships, healthy living, activities that keep my mind active, spiritual integrity. It’s big to take pleasure in the small stuff that fuels my dreams. The less time, the more energizing our dreams.
Let’s take family harmony, for instance. I try to spend a little bit of time with each of my children and grandchildren spread all over the country, whether by phone, zoom, or in person, on a regular basis. We aren’t always in harmony; in fact, some of us are singing out-of-tune. I try to listen and understand. I own my part. I share my love. Then I let it go because I know I’ve taken the steps I can take. That’s all anyone can do; take the steps we can take that lead us as close to our dreams as possible. Small bites, one step at a time.
Yowzah! For a neat and organized person like me who crosses all her t’s and dot’s all her i’s, that’s a pretty wild idea to embrace. Yet some of the most powerful experiences I’ve had came totally out of the blue, moving me further along my path or setting me off in a new direction, Plans change. Life expectations turn upside down. What’s in front of me had never been imagined, and what I imagined is a distant memory. After the initial shock, the unexpected sometimes holds rare gems that enhance our lives.
Who said I was controlling? I confess, I like the illusion that I hold untold power over life, in general, and my life, in particular. By the eighth decade of life, you’d think I would have learned that control is – for the most part – out of my hands. As in my third hint above, taking the steps in front of us is all we can do. Then we let it go. Breathe. Walk away, at least for a little while, before coming back again. Give it over to God, or the Higher Power in your life. Know that your lack of control makes an opening for the unexpected which, of course, you will welcome with open arms. Go with the flow.
The “hero’s journey” depicts the mythological stages of the journeys taken by heroes of every stripe. After leaving home, conquering dragons, and learning lessons, the hero returns home and “sees it again for the first time.” We end our list of hints where we began: cultivating gratitude. When we use our latter years to dream like there’s no tomorrow, take small steps (with a walker, if needed), welcome the unexpected (that’s always right around the corner), and go with the flow (whether that’s a trickle, a rolling stream, or a raging torrent), we’ll understand gratitude at a new and deeper level. Gratitude is the key to happiness and the stuff of a well-lived life.
Who said old age is boring? It doesn’t have to be. It’s all in how you tackle every moment, every day of your life. Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Life is a gift from our first cry at birth to our last breath at death. It’s how we live it in between that makes all the difference.
About the Author
Lyn Barrett is an author and facilitator of Writers’ Workshops and Memoir Classes for People with Dissociative Disorders. Her memoir, Crazy: Reclaiming Life from the Shadow of Traumatic Memory, was published in 2022 and is available from online bookstores everywhere. She has been interviewed by public radio stations and podcasts around the country and by Safe Communities Survivors’ Voices series. A retired teacher, school principal, and pastor, Lyn was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder in 1992 while she was climbing up the career ladder. After considerable therapeutic work, she now lives a happily integrated life with her husband in the high desert of the southern New Mexico. You can connect with Lyn on her website at www.lynbarrett.com.