frogs and hearts

I know a number of people over 60 who have fallen in love and either have married or plan to marry. That I would be included in this company never occurred to me. But I am now and, as a consequence, have begun observing and reflecting upon this phenomenon.

There is something fascinating about the later romances and marriages I am witnessing. They are happening to people who have made a deliberate effort to live out their personal sense of what is meaningful, bringing to life their particular gifts, often taking a risk to do so. In the process they have developed compassion and mercy for themselves and for others. These marriages I am witnessing are happening to people who, having lived through enough of the difficulties that life can bring, have learned to value themselves with a generosity of spirit, respecting their unique gifts and welcoming the gifts of others.

This is not about people who have been busy nursing a big ego or who been highly competitive, striving to "get to the top", slamming aside anyone that "gets in the way of the goal." That never truly builds a life.

This is about living and cultivating the gifts of who we are, just as we are. It is about acknowledging our strengths and our limitations. We are growing older. We know more. By 60, we have learned a lot about what we can give and we are coming to accept and work around those things we cannot give, forgiving ourselves our imperfections.

I know a brilliant painter. For years she has supported her art by working in various jobs but has never given up on her painting. Rather she has steadily and intentionally developed her creative contribution - year in and year out. She has lived with integrity and kindness, understanding what she can and cannot do, being true to herself.

Over the time that I have known her, this friend of mine hasn't spent a lot of time that I could see fretting over or reaching for a relationship at the expense of making her contribution to life. Now she tells me that she has encountered a man who, like her, has honored and developed his own ability to make art. He is also a painter and they plan to marry. My friend's willingness to live building her relationship to herself and her gifts has attracted a person with whom she can share her particular understanding of what is meaningful.

I never imagined having had a stroke, being partially disabled in my 60s and widowed, that I would ever marry again. Seemed highly unlikely to me and I dismissed it as a possibility. My husband, Bob, had died. I was grieving deeply and thinking about what Bob used to say," The death of someone you love is a message to live." I agreed with Bob, that turning towards life, not away from it, is the way to honor the person we have lost. But I had no expectation that following this admonition might someday include remarriage.

To turn towards life I chose to explore how it might be possible to make my own contribution to the world around me. I decided to find out if what I knew could bring a benefit to other people. And I have been glad of it. My joy has been in meeting and working with people, providing what support and encouragement I am able to give.

Acknowledging and valuing ourselves through giving what is uniquely ours to give builds a rich and satisfying life. We know ourselves to be useful, to be making a difference in the way that only we can make a difference. That in itself is enough to bring us great happiness and wonderful companionship along the way.

But, like my friend the painter, and a number of other people I know, it is just this, this living life in a way that honors what I can give, that now, unexpectedly, has brought a deep and abiding love into my life with a person who understands, values and embodies what I care about. And that's the magic, the wonder of it. Living fully, developing our gifts and our generosity of spirit, can bring towards us people who are capable of truly sharing and valuing what matters to us.

This love after 60 I see around me is resonant on so many levels - passionate indeed and much more. It is respectful. It is cherishing. Love grown in such commonality of understanding, such mercy and forgiveness for ourselves and each other, can bring a satisfaction unlike any other.

This love is a reminder that we can never assume we know in advance what is possible. Possibilities emerge as we live our own unique lives as fully as we can.

About the Author

Alison Bonds Shapiro

Alison Bonds Shapiro, M.B.A., works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.

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