Janet Sheridan: Thoughts on aging
I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned and skimming through a magazine when a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert caught my attention: “I don’t have much fear of getting older, but I do fear that someday a wicked genie will make me go back and live my twenties over again.”
I related to the lady’s words, though I had no idea who she was.
Later, when I looked her up online, I learned she wrote the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. I also discovered that during her twenties she traveled around the United States, working as a cook and waitress before earning a college degree and being employed by various notable magazines.
I wondered what Ms. Gilbert could possibly regret about her twenties, a decade that seemed to bring her adventure and success. Perhaps she endured sad, painful, or embarrassing experiences along the way. If so, I hope they were the embarrassing sort: smoking in her dorm room and lighting her hair on fire or bursting into tears when her editor chided her for too many semicolons.
Unlike Ms. Gilbert, I find it impossible to choose a decade to regret — I managed to perform poorly in all of mine. But like her, I would rather grow old than relive past mistakes: those uncomfortable scenes that now and then manage to break through my well-constructed barriers and remind me of my malfunctions.
I try to forgive myself for past failures — I was young and didn’t know better. The sun was in my eyes. She hurt my feelings. I spoke too quickly. He did it on purpose. I didn’t mean it. — but too often fail.
I think I’m now better equipped to handle troubling situations. As my years have increased, so has my ability to forgive, to understand and to separate the important from the unimportant. I’ve worked through the difficult tasks of adulthood: charting my way, shaping my life, building relationships, proving myself in my chosen roles and preparing for retirement. With each, I did the best I could.
Recently, as Joel left to buy materials for a home-repair project, I complimented him on his spiffy appearance. “Thanks,” he responded. “I used to save good stuff for important occasions; I didn’t wear a nice sweater to run errands. But I’ve stopped thinking like that. I’ll wear this sweater and these cords to buy nails and paint if I feel like it. Why save them for tomorrow? It might not come.”
While I found the implication of his words startling, I recognized their truth: My years on this good planet are limited. My youthful notion that I’ll live forever has narrowed to a wish for 10 more good years; and that narrowing has liberated me. I appreciate more deeply, worry less often, and eat dessert more frequently.
True, I’m sometimes saddened when I look at myself with eyes not blinded by memories of how I used to be. But, at those times, I take comfort in lines written by the poet Hilma Wolitzer:
“How did we get to be old ladies —
my grandmother’s job — when we
were the long-legged girls?”
I repeat her lines to myself and think of all the women who went before me, those who will go with me, and those who will follow me: all the long–legged girls.
And I think of all the men who went before me, those who will go with me, and those who will follow me: all the strong-armed men.
We were something.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.
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