I turned 80 in February of 2017. To say this gave me pause would be like saying I felt a little twinge when an alligator bit my leg.
I've had trouble with major birthday years. At 40, I went to bed for the day. At 50, I was bereft realizing I was at the half way mark but more probably beyond it. 60 and 70 were difficult for more reasons than the number...the painful process of my husband's diagnosis of dementia and passing. After each birthday I found myself a little depressed. Number 80 (and yes, it's just a number, but a significant one) came with a big depression and a side order of anxiety.
It's not like suddenly being hit by depression and not knowing why. I know why and from whence it came. I not only have less ahead than behind but a lot less. And instead of focusing on every day, indeed every moment, my thoughts have been running to the unknown future.
I'm lucky to be healthy. I have two new hips, cataracts all gone. I exercise regularly, eat healthful food, have remained slim and can move around my life easily. But having moved back to Florida from my beloved New York City, I have been struggling to stay interested, interesting and above all relevant.
I have written articles for a local newspaper on aging and the problems and feelings of those of us who are grappling with the effects of not being young anymore and trying to stay relevant. And since my last birthday, I am, once again, doing research on myself. What, at 80, do I want to do with the remaining years, picturing myself healthy and able and with my mind still fairly well intact?
What I discovered in my self-to-self research is how the messages from our youth trail us to old age! I still have within me expectations and admonishments I heard way back in my growing up years. I most definitely internalized that I had to be someone, to do something to be relevant. And I strived to do exactly that in every stage of my life.
But as I continue to explore the spiritual side of my life, which matters more to me at this time of my aging process, I find myself at war with that idea. And I have to win that war because it stands between me and joy and contentment with life just as it is, and with me just as I am without having to do or be anything. I am enough as I am. I need to prove nothing. As the great philospher in the sailor suit said: "I yam what I yam!" But I have to feel that. On some days I do, on others not so much.
The other day, a not so great one, depression wise, I got a text message from my daughter who lives nearby. She said she was ill and going to the doctor. She texted me again when she was done and said she was going to pick up some soup from a local market and did I want some. I said that I could do better than the market and had all the ingredients for my cures-everything-that-ails-you chicken soup. And did she want some? Yes, she said.
Well, after everything was in the pot, not having anything pressing to do, I stood patiently at the stove and watched the steam rise as the soup heated up, bubbled, rolled and finally came to a boil. And as I watched and sniffed the delicious aroma already in my kitchen, I was aware of the thought that if that was all I did that day, and there was no tomorrow, it was enough to have seen my creation cooking in a pot. I was in the Now, paying attention to the bubbling soup made to aid my ailing child, and strangely feeling good.
Of course the truth that staying in the present moment is imperative for my mental health is not a revelation...nor is fully understanding that that is all there is and if I miss the moment, I miss my true life. My chicken soup epiphany was a simple but powerful reminder from above and from within that the Now is where the light is and from that comes everything...my life, my creativity, my joy. My goal is to stay there.
I'll let you know.