By Victoria Sarne
“I’m late, I’m late for a very important date,” said the White Rabbit to Alice. My birthday arrived this year a whimper rather than a bang, but I was determined not to be late for the date with the rest of my life.
Although the numbers are meaningless on their own and have absolutely nothing to do with how I think and feel, there are two realities: one is how society and people react, even one’s own family and friends and their perception of how I should now behave; and two, the real issue of maybe running out of time before I get to do or experience a whole lot of things which still interest me.
I have, like everyone else, experienced both great joy and sadness, having been married and divorced twice (no medals there as that was exactly what I hadn’t wanted to happen) and in between those a single parent for 13 years. In the immediate past I have lived alone for the past 27 years in a foreign country. Some of my choices and chances may not have been wise – painful and not rewarding initially but eventually from which I learned my most important lessons on how to survive and eventually re-build a life.
There are no big rewards without taking big risks. To paraphrase Nobel Prize winner André Gide, and to give purpose to my life at least, I need new challenges. I long ago accepted that “to discover new lands one must consent to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”.
I speak openly about what I know and have learned from my journey. The words are authentic and from my heart, because I believe the voices of who we are, if aged over 60, are so often silenced as if we are of no matter anymore; as if we have nothing left to give. When in fact we have everything to give, more than at any other time in our lives.
“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be; the last of life for
which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith ‘a whole I planned,
youth shows but half; trust God. See all, nor be afraid.”
I like to think we are ripened to perfection. Without a doubt there are legions of us, men and women who not only have time now that formal careers and child raising are done, who have an abundance of wisdom, knowledge and the energy to share. The question is why do business communities place so little value on accumulated experience and apparently seem so reluctant to accept that neither creativity nor productivity has an age barrier? Or when someone is occasionally recognised and lauded for a success or an accomplishment, they are treated as if they are some uniquely aberrant freak of nature? Why not bring older perspectives more frequently to the table to interact with youthful energy, ideas and up-to-the-minute technological information? What a combination – a real brains trust!
Why is it that society in general too frequently posits that the first part of our life our youthfulness is the only part that truly matters? Sadly this is more often applied to women. In our Western society there is no respect for maturity, and the commonly held belief seems to be that anyone past the age of 50 is simply old with nothing much left to offer. I am guessing that most of you would agree with me that this concept of aging has mostly negative connotations and is a pitiful waste of mineable ability. The fact is it could be the most rewarding time of our lives as individuals when we could continue to make a real contribution to the well-being of any community.
I know that anyone who has passed middle age will agree that in growing older we have indeed grown wiser, and we probably wish that it had happened sooner rather than later, when we might have avoided some of those embarrassing or painful mistakes which in my case are sprinkled fairly liberally, like measles, over the landscape of my life.
Even when I felt I was doing my best, I know with the benefit of hindsight and the awareness which comes with age, that even though my intention was valid, I fell short in some areas and it saddens me. Unfortunately, there are no do-overs and we have to learn to live with the errors, no matter how uncomfortable. It’s easier to enjoy the rewards of success and we should, we earned them, but we need to embrace all of it, good and bad and keep looking forward in order to progress.
Although most of us probably have children (and they stay our children forever no matter how old) we are now released from their immediate nurture, and it brings a unique sadness and sometimes a loss of purpose. It takes time to come to terms with this loss and to re-imagine our lives. But if we have done our job properly we have now set them free to follow their own pursuits and, surprise, they have in turn set us free to begin the rest of our lives.
We are fascinating, aren’t we? We have history; a multi-coloured, layered landscape filled with a cornucopia of interesting back stories. We have successes, we have failures, gains and losses, disappointments and joys all crammed into one life. We should celebrate this muddled and flawed mess, for, at the very least, we survived all of it – a victory, even if occasionally it feels pyrrhic. Maintaining our appetite for life not only enhances the quality of it for us but often attracts much younger persons to want to interact with us and lay aside their notions of aging. Occasionally, they can even imagine that once upon a time we had smooth unwrinkled faces and firm bodies and were as convinced then as they are now that we had all the answers and right on our side. The division between age and youth need not be an impermeable barrier if we don’t let it.
I am glad not to have to re-visit those teenage years fraught with insecurities or the 20s when a lot of us still hadn’t found our place in the world. I don’t enjoy the occasional reminders that I am not as athletic as I once was nor that my looks have faded, but I do enjoy the better acceptance of myself just as I am. I love being a grandma, but on the other hand I am definitely not ready for grey hair, ‘age-appropriate’ clothes or orthopaedic shoes (unless necessitated by a medical condition, in which case I will sprinkle mine with glitter).
Even though it is mostly acknowledged that 60 is the new 40 compared to our parents’ eras, I find we are still labelled an “oldie” or a “senior” or other pejoratives in use. I want to be visible and I believe deserving of respect, not invalidated and invisible. My innate energy and sense of self still functions as if I am 40. I’m still here, alive and well with energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. I want us to be authentic and confident in embracing this other phase of our lives with enthusiasm and I want it to be acknowledged that we’re worth it.
If we are on the cusp of being “older”, or have long ago crossed that Rubicon, then I hope that everyone has embraced that reality, realised the opportunity we have to keep extending our boundaries now that we generally have fewer responsibilities; that we are ready to re-vamp and re-imagine ourselves; that we have created our own style and our appearance whether classical or quirky will still turn heads; that we have kept healthy eating habits and maintained all our moving parts; that we have our ducks in an orderly row in terms of emotional and intellectual well-being, and believe that we should be able to embrace our age, dive in and enjoy it. It’s time to break the rules; they are artificial and arbitrary and set by others.
We should be relaxed and confident at this stage, and like Rhett Butler, not give a damn about anyone else’s opinion because we have our own moral compass firmly set. Only we should be the judge and jury of our own behaviour. I think the positive attention we can attract lies in being real and bringing authenticity and integrity to every aspect of ourselves and our actions. We are perhaps more fully “real” than we have ever been and are most likely more at peace with ourselves or, at least, cognizant of the things we can still change or influence and conversely the ones we cannot.
For some of us, we are fortunate to arrive at that point of realisation sooner rather than later, but whenever it occurs in your life, it is a point of release and worthy of celebration.
So ladies, have a glass of champagne or a donut, I say, whatever moves your motor. At the very least, kick up your heels and do a dance whether anyone’s looking or not. Who cares! Paint on the bright red shade of lipstick, wear the eye shadow, do the full make-up; get dressed up when you feel like it, special occasion or not. Do it for you and if you don’t feel like it, then don’t.
Even working from a home office, I always get up, shower, dress and put on make-up, because the routine prepares me mentally as well as physically for whatever the day may bring. On the maybe not so enthusiastic days when, like Eleanor Rigby, I would prefer to leave my face in a jar by the door (thank you The Beatles for that imagery) it may be a case of fake it till I make it, but I have found this assumed attitude usually pays off, equilibrium is regained and I can fool myself, if necessary, into believing all is okay until it is.
Wisdom tells us that there are no bargains to be made with god(s) or life. By now we know the emotional and physical costs, the struggles, the gains, the losses and the victories which are part of everyday life. Whatever lies within us whether it is old griefs or ancient terrors, we have, if we are strong enough and emotionally healthy, been able to subdue them so that they run quietly through our blood in a more tolerable way and we can continue our lives. They never leave us but we can learn to accept what is or was and let it go instead of dragging it along like a shackle. Surrender is one of my favourite words but not in a negative sense. Not as in ‘giving in’ as if we are not summoning up enough courage to go on, but because surrender means to stop struggling in an unequal battle and accepting things or events which impact us. This attitude will release us from frustration and fear giving us the ability to gradually move on and obtain a more peaceful and insightful viewpoint. It springs the trap on toxic situations and gives us freedom. Life has taught us that we will be able to change some things but not others. Accepting that makes us wise.
I hear the music. It’s time to dance and it’s not a waltz. Let’s shake, rattle and roll into the rest of our lives with determination, unshakeable optimism and a smile as wide as the ocean.
We only have one take. Lights, camera – action!
• Victoria Sarne, formerly a wedding and event planner in Nassau, is happy to stay in touch with readers from the Bahamas and welcomes comments and questions. E-mail her at email@example.com, call 437-992-9093, or visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com.