Good News or Bad News: A Matter of Perspective

“The good news is this is the last time you will ever have to experience this procedure.”  Those were the words that lingered in the air as my physician, Angelina, left the exam room.  You would think I would be happy to hear her statement. The truth is I think the prep work is disgusting.  Not to mention the flexible camera lurking around in your body attempting to detect abnormalities or disease.  Colonoscopies are no fun, period.  Yet, that is not what really bothered me.  When Dr. Angelina left the room, I begin to ruminate on the meaning behind her words.  “What is she really saying?”  My internal critic was ready at hand with an answer. His snarly voice shouted in my ear “I think she is trying to tell you in another ten years your life will be irrelevant, or possibly over.  You are definitely on your own.”

Undoubtedly, Dr. Angelina had no idea how her words landed with me.  They triggered many repressed fears that I wasn’t even aware of, yet somehow they had taken up residency in some compartment of my mind.  Now that door was unlocked and stood wide open accompanied by Charlie the naysayer, my zealous critic. “Face it, you are much older than you would like to believe”.

I have always thought of health is a private topic, one in which I’d would prefer to keep that way.  Particularly when other well-intentioned beings alert me to the fact that I am getting older.  Even my nine-year-old grandson, Auggie, takes great pleasure in reminding me of my age. Especially since he has finally come to the conclusion that indeed I am older than his father.  When he was three, he was quite certain it was the other way around. This was due to the fact he believed his father was much smarter than I am; therefore he must be older. Since then, he has discovered the truth. He now knows I am older than his father. Somehow in Auggie’s eyes I still know less.  How can he have it both ways?

I remember the first time I read the British children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. It was in children’s literature class when I was in college.  At the time, I didn’t relate to the passage where Margery Williams reminds her readers through the voice of the Skin Horse “By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But those things don’t matter because you’re Real. You can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” I fell into the category of those who didn’t understand.  I do now. 

Today, I find I’d like to hold onto Mark Twain’s saying that “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Societal norms often tell a different story. These norms account for why people in an older age group feel they experience isolation and discrimination. I believe it is because they struggle with their identity.  They find themselves wrestling with a loss of personal status, loss of power and control, influence and regard.  Real or unreal they all feed into the subtle formation of limiting beliefs.  Many don’t have the skill set to turn limiting beliefs into expanding beliefs thus they get layered on top of one another. Eventually they are overpowered with beliefs that keep them stuck.

Twain is right — it is mind over matter.  However, he forgot to say it isn’t easy.  It takes commitment and the willingness to create a healthy lifestyle, beliefs, habits, and expectations.   

For me, I believe the only way that can happen is when I don’t allow the naysayers in my life to get in the way.  I don’t listen to my critic or people in my life who attempt to indoctrinate me into their lifestyle, their beliefs, their expectations.

Perhaps it all starts each morning when I look in the mirror.  I can ask the person peering back at me:  Who and what do I want to see or be today? What can I explore, rediscover, or investigate?  I think I’d much rather live in that world, the world of wonder and hope even if like the Velveteen Rabbit my joints are loose, and some days I do feel a bit shabby.

Is There Something Wild and Precious in All of Us?

Mary Oliver’s line, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? seems to be quoted everywhere of late. It speaks of living a life of one’s own design, a design that unleashes the wild and precious rather than the banality of slugging through our days intent on keeping a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. It speaks of something wondrous that’s out there if we only let go of our need to conform and live from our true center, our spirit. 

Not too far into retirement I found myself often wondering what was wild and precious but dormant in me. My life was not exciting.  I moved between my own home, the library, the health club, my children’s homes, and the homes of friends, with an occasional trip out of town.  Not the stuff of wild and precious, of that I was certain. And here I was, free to find the wild and precious and live it.  

But how do I find that which lies dormant in me, that which yearns for expression in my life? Or perhaps I already have it, perhaps in the routine I’ve pressed upon my days. I suspect, however, that routine, while affording stability, suppresses experimentation about what might be dormant. . . and yet “a girl can dream.”

The dream went something like this. . .

She spent the entire summer dreaming of Wales. It made no sense, this yearning to leave her settled life, her children, her easy routine. Yet in her fantasies, it made all the sense in the world. She could start over, no, not start over but be born anew, without memory in a lush, beautiful place, where people speak in a language that she would have to learn—as a baby learns language from birth.

In August she booked her ticket.  She bought an enormous suitcase and packed it with her clothes. She told her children she was taking a long trip—how could she tell them her truth, that she sought a new land, a new beginning? How long will you stay, they asked, but she avoided the question. I’ll be back when I’m ready. . . 

The plane landed in Heathrow, not Wales. Wandering a bit felt right. Like Odysseus seeking his home, she sought a new home and an adventure on the way. Why had she brought such a big suitcase, she thought as she pulled it outside to find a taxi to the train station. What had she been thinking? But wasn’t that the point? To not think but to wander and live on the way?

The taxi driver left her suitcase on the curb, and she dragged it inside. The train timetable clicked with suggestions. Where in Wales should she go?  She settled on Llangollen—how many words have four “l’s”—“l” for living. She pulled the suitcase to the platform. She would need to drag it through two train changes, if she was reading the itinerary correctly. Maybe she should just leave the suitcase here. It was still baggage from her old life.  She could buy new clothes in Wales—Welsh clothes. But still, money was money, and she wasn’t sure how far hers would go in her new life.

The train ride was exhausting. For each of the two changes, she bounced the suitcase down to the platform and dragged it up and onto the next train. She slept when she could and stopped counting stations, staying awake just enough so as not to miss her stop. 

And the dream of a wild and precious life stops somewhere about here. . . 

Is this what it would be like? Is it real or an escape? What I wonder is whether and how we lose the will to live that which is wild and precious in service to work, family, security, and whatever else haunts us. Then, suddenly—and it seems sudden—we are retired, free but with baggage that we are reluctant to leave on the train platform, baggage that must be hauled up and down with every new step we take. And how do we reconcile baggage with possibility?

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