Each stage of life is a journey, necessitating a period of adjustment. Teen years, marriage, parenthood, menopause, andropause, or life alone, bring with them ambiguity and self-doubt as well as the thrill of anticipation.
Change necessitates change. And that can be puzzling and frightening. For humans, knowing that change is inevitable does not necessarily lessen its impact. How we cope with change represents the challenge and fascination of our life experience. Some unfortunate souls are dealt a life of such circumstance that adaptation is impossible, perseverance simply too cruel a task. It is pivotal to learn that species unable to adapt to change have become extinct.
For decades I have journaled my way through periods of change or difficulty, ruminating on how to adapt to yet one more stage of life and its implicit change.
I had better decide soon what I am going to be when I grow up. After all, I turned sixty-one my last birthday. And, even now, I am often wracked by indecision and doubt. Even at this age, I do not always trust my instincts.
Just this morning I drove to Second Cup for coffee and ordered my usual, “Paradisio Dark, large, with cream.”
Next to me a woman ordered, “Decaf, large.”
For one uncomfortable moment, I put myself through the second-guessing game. I should have ordered decaf. It is better for me. Caffeine increases blood pressure. It increases stress. God knows what else it does. Ultimately I decided what the hell. Stop vacillating. Stick to your original choice and enjoy the caffeine kick.
Insecurity is prevalent in various aspects of my life. Is self-doubt a universal trait? I think so. I hope so. Otherwise, I’m in bigger trouble than I imagined.
In contrast, my alter ego is extremely opinionated. I attempt to convince others to see things my way, the “right” way.
My mother recently said to me, “My goodness Linda, you’re bossy.”
That was not the first time I have been accused of being bossy. My silent rebuttal hangs on an embroidered hand towel in my bathroom:
“I’m not bossy. I just have better ideas!”
Mom does not like to rock the boat. I used to be like that. Now I feel the need to ‘clear the air’, say what I think. Where does that come from? Oprah said in a recent program that she has found that when women reach 50 they speak up for themselves more often, become assertive. But I may have absorbed more than my share of assertiveness.
I had hoped I would age gracefully like my mother, who, at 86 years, refers to some of her peers as “old”. She simply does not see herself that way. She is bright and logical and I call her regularly for her simple yet creative solutions to any dilemma. She is my sounding board.
Lately, I feel less hip, more out of touch with the times. I guess it is a generational thing and to be expected.
My babies are grown now with incredible children of their own. They are making sound choices and decisions. I applaud their independence, but they need me less. When I first realised this, it hurt. I missed their dependence on me. Gradually, I got over the hurt and self-pity. Light dawned as I realized I had embarked on another stage of life, filled with freedom to pursue whatever I wanted. The next dilemma was to decide what that would be! Now, creativity is blossoming.
Confidence is a trait I find requires constant work. Confidence is, by definition, my husband! On the surface he always appears to be in control, always sure of himself. But over time, I have come to realise that is not always so. Thirty years ago I was co-ordinator of a region-wide program and had difficulty making a particular executive decision.
When I asked my husband for advice, Greg, a corporate ‘suit’, said, “When I am in that position, I say ‘yes’ one time, ‘no’ the next and I’m right 50 per cent of the time!”
That took a while to sink in, but I realised two things. It is a brilliant deduction – the odds will guarantee you success half the time. The other thing I realised was that this confident man was often bluffing his way through life. I guess we all do that to some extent. Life is a crap shoot. You make your choices. Then you get to enjoy your successes or be responsible for your mistakes.
Life constantly demands that we make choices – who to love, whether to be happy or not, whether to like someone or not, what toothpaste to buy. Choices and change are the speed bumps on the road of life. I think that when we finally accept that change, like death and taxes, is inevitable, some of its impact is lessened.
Speaking of change – physical changes that occur as we navigate life’s course, cause shock-waves to the system. They did to mine, anyway. Not, that it happens, but how and when it happens. Ageing is sneaky. It creeps up on you – earlier than you imagine.
The first sign that I was not what I had been, occurred in my thirties.
Metamorphosis occurred. Slim, youthful hands thickened. Then the shape of my face and body began subtle alterations as the effects of gravity became clear. I grew jowls where once I had a firm chin line. I began to be impatient for my menstrual nuisance to stop, but Mom in her wisdom said, “Don’t be in a hurry for that. You will age more rapidly when it happens.”
A decade or two later, I was standing in front of the mirror, drying off after my shower and noticed that my beautiful, curly auburn bush was almost gone. My pubic hair had nearly disappeared. As a nurse I realise, of course, that it happens – but eventually, not so soon! The discovery was traumatic because it affected how I felt about myself as a sexual being. No one warns you of this little unmentionable. Consider yourself warned.
In the past, I naively thought we ambled through adulthood until our seventies or eighties when we would begin to age. But decades before then, I began to realize that each day brings change. Hormone replacement therapy kept the ageing process at bay for several years, until its secret harm caused blood clots which travelled to my right lung and nearly ended my life. As a result, I am on blood thinners (Coumadin) for the rest of my life.
The short-term memory loss all my friends experience and laugh about is a nuisance and frightening. I can author a story, and two weeks later I will have forgotten writing it. I walk into a room for an item. When I arrive I have no idea why I made the trek. Backtracking becomes second nature.
“Aggressive arthritis” is another matter. “Arthur’s” appearance is always a surprise. “His” cyclical nature is like the tide. You feel strong and limber one day and the next you are debilitated.
Noise and confusion I can no longer tolerate – this from a mother of five and grandmother of nine. Often I’m told, “Relax Mother.” But noise and confusion cause a mumble-jumble of cobwebs in my brain. My son-in-law says this is perfectly normal – the brain’s ability to filter and compartmentalized decreases. So I am not crazy. It is just that change, once again, has to be accommodated.
These changes may not be present in everyone as they age, but be assured, there will be others, in varying degrees.
The impact of ageing and the assumptions that we all make about others was brought home to me several years ago in the poem, “What Do You See?” It was written anonymously by, or about, an elderly woman addressing her caregivers.
“What do you see, nurses, what do you see,” she asks, “When you dress and feed me, when I have spills on my dress, when I sit motionless, expressionless?”
She tells them, “Look deeper – I am the young girl filled with life and expectation. I am a young woman receiving my first kiss, a new mother holding my first-born child, seeing my daughter marry, grieving for my husband.” She describes herself throughout the memorable stages of her life. That is who she is. Not the aged, empty shell.
She concludes by telling them, “Wake up, nurses. See me!”
Don’t we all wish that people would see who we really are? I imagine that to be a common thread, weaving us together.
I love this life I was given and I even like myself, most of the time. I love the inevitability of light following darkness. I love my family and I know they love me. I am blessed with girlfriends with whom I share hilarity, gad-abouts and common interests. I am feisty and curious. I love stimulating my senses. The sultry sounds of Nina Simone move me. Delicious freedom from maternal responsibility provides opportunity to pursue writing and art with wondrous and exploding passion. I love arranging flowers. I love filling my planters with a profusion of tuberous begonias and twinkling impatience in the sheltered shade, and fuchsia and geraniums in the hot, bright sun.
I love that my friend, Pat, wrote to me … “I like to put in heliotrope as it has a pleasant aroma around the entrance! I just throw in bacopa as it is a great filler, but it does wax and wane in the heat of the summer, so I stick in verbena to cover that time.” Can’t you imagine the colour, the fragrance, the pleasure?
So I love this life and I am fascinated by this particular stage of my life. But, will I ever grow up? Will I finally be self-assured all the time? Probably not.
George Elliott wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
Will I become the person I was meant to be? Maybe I already am.