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Posts Tagged ‘living in the moment’

Today is my sixtieth birthday, and the only way I can describe it is surreal. To give you an idea of just how foreign the number “sixty” is to me, I first typed the title of this entry as “On Turning Thirty.” Even my fingers are in denial.

Unlike my teenage years, or young womanhood, or my years as a wife and mother, this is an age I never took time to imagine. It snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking; perhaps while I was asleep, or stuck in traffic, or playing my zillionth game of Spider Solitaire. Somewhere between forty and sixty, I lost time.

Despite feeling a little shell-shocked, reaching my sixth decade doesn’t bother me as much as I expected it might. I’ve watched so many of my friends die much too soon. How can I not appreciate each day that I am given? I’ve been so lucky. Healthwise, I don’t feel any worse than I did at forty. It may be one advantage of having the aches and pains of fibromyalgia for so long. My age has simply caught up with the way I’ve always felt. The asthma that plagued me at a younger age is under control now, thanks to medical advances. To think I once believed that it would probably kill me someday. I never could have predicted that I’d feel this good at sixty.

Surprisingly, I have developed a fascination with the aging process, as if it’s happening to someone else, as if the person in the mirror is not really me. I study the gradual appearance of lines in my face as if noticing them for the first time. I am spellbound by the skin on my hands, how much thinner and drier it seems. My nails have changed. I wonder when all of it began and why I didn’t notice.

And then there’s my neck.

A few years ago, I watched author Nora Ephron being interviewed on a women’s talk show. She discussed her new book on middle-age, and the procedures some women endure to appear younger. She ended by saying “but there’s nothing you can do about one part of your body.” The title of her book was “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” She was right. And the irony is in knowing that at a time in my life when I prefer to cover my neck, I can no longer stand the heat!

Yes, I am now sixty. I may have to say it again and again until it sinks in. I’d like to think I’m a bit wiser than I was at thirty, but the reality is that inside, I am very much unchanged, with the same values, the same passions, the same sentiments. The greatest difference comes from acknowledging that time has passed more quickly than I ever anticipated, too much of it forgotten.

From this point on, I have to try harder to savour each moment, to make the days count for something. Life is much too fleeting, and there are still memories to be made.

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I’ve never really been a morning person. Sure, I can fake it when I have to, jumping out of bed at the first sound of the alarm, and moving through my “to-do” checklist like a “Stepford Wife” model of efficiency. But I’m moving just to stay awake. Sit me down for two minutes and I’m apt to nod off again. If it’s up to me, it’s late to bed, later to rise – usually a very civilized nine-thirty.

For the past ten days, I’ve had no choice in the matter. My husband has started a new job, and since he’s still on crutches, he needs my help in the morning. Otherwise, he’ll end up “ass over teakettle,” as his dear mum used to say. And because this will be his schedule indefinitely, I’m forcing myself to stick to it too. It gives me more time to think.

Now that spring is here, our home is on the market again, and I spend my days either compulsively cleaning the house to impress prospective buyers, or searching online for our next place to live. I feel like an anxious little mother robin, trying to figure out where to build her next nest.

We’ll be downsizing, and the verdict is out on whether we’ll move further into the country, where homes are less expensive, or closer to urban centres, where there are more job opportunities. Weighing the pros and cons of each is exhausting, and it’s tinged with a sense of loss. This move is based on practicality, not simple wanderlust, and so far nothing I’ve seen online makes the decision any easier.

It was beautiful outside this morning, and a moment of lucidity hit me when I carried my husband’s coffee to his car and reminded him to drive safely. The reality is that each day that passes is one less in this much-loved country home, and I’m not taking the time to appreciate it. So I walked inside, poured myself a coffee, grabbed the novel “Precious,” and joined my dog, Cadeau, and cat, Cleo, on our backyard deck. I’m glad I did.

By now, everyone knows the story of Precious, based on the attention generated by the screenplay. It is a story about survival against all odds, and the power of self-esteem. The heroine picks herself up from the worst of circumstances and begins to build a new life for herself. The last few pages of the book are pieces written by the girl and by her classmates, other young women struggling to get on track. I read those last pages this morning, and it set the perfect tone for my day.

I closed the book and looked around me, trying to remember the last time I gave myself permission to do this, just sit outside on an early spring day rather than plant myself in front of the computer or rush to finish chores. Why have I wasted these so many mornings when I could have been here, feeling the sun and listening to the birds on my backyard deck?

On our first day in this home, I remember waking to their singing. It was a striking change from the city, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to sleep through their early morning cacophony. Over the years, I’ve come to take their concert for granted, but today, I heard them again as if for the first time. I tried to identify the source of the diverse dialects. A blackbird atop the birch? The small yellow songbirds high in the willows? The killdeer on the slope at the back? The robins near the front of the house, gathering materials for their nest? There were so many more whose names I never bothered to learn.

I felt a wave of regret, but shook it off. Like the heroine Precious, we all move through different chapters in our lives. Sometimes, we’re pulled there, kicking all the way. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is never easy, but it comes down to this: we can choose to remain mired in the past and mourn its loss, or we can rejoice in all the blessings we still have and look to the future. No matter how uncertain life can be, there will always be sunny April mornings, and the birds will still be singing their morning song.

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I visit this space two or three times a day, drawn by an overwhelming urge to write. With one arm in a cast, it’s just not going to be that easy. Five minutes of trying and my one good hand is stiff and sore and wanting to slap me. While I “not-so-patiently” wait to heal, I thought it might be a good time for this old piece, written about my father five years ago. Since so much of my life right now revolves around his health and rehab, it seemed an appropriate time to share a little more about him.

 

WITH  MY DAD, IT’S ONE STORY AFTER ANOTHER

 

Recently it was my father’s seventy-seventh birthday, and as always, his family gathered together to toast his longevity. The truth is, though, that we celebrate much more than that, because his wit and zest for life are contagious, and without him our lives just wouldn’t be the same.

 

Dad defies the calendar – he seems to grow younger by the year. In fact, last summer, he traded his older, staid Cadillac for a Grand Am. He joked that he also intended to grow his hair long, get an earring, wear his pants lower and use his new, sportier car to attract women!
 
He lives in the moment. There is a wonderful quote that he may never have heard, but he lives it nonetheless:
 
Life is not a ride to an end, with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. Skid broadside to the grave, used up, worn-out and loudly proclaiming “Wow – What a ride!”
 
Yes, he views life as an adventure, and as a result, he’s had more than his share of “misadventures,” from which his funniest stories are born. It started in his youth. As the second oldest in a family of nine, opportunities for practical jokes were abundant. His stories of their mischievous pranks and foolhardy play are endless.

 

As a child, one of my earliest memories is seeing him swing between crutches, only to lose his balance and re-break a foot. Even then, he loved to make us laugh. I can close my eyes and still see him performing his bicycle trick: the handlebars of a bike turned around and Dad sitting on them, faced backwards and blindly trying to navigate figure eights between the trees of our backyard, while we squealed in a mixture of delight and alarm.

 

He’s a widower, so nowadays he’s by himself when most calamities occur. I suspect he uses the time between our visits to rehearse his “delivery” of his latest comical escapade. Between the speed of his “Maritimer” speech and his laughter as he relives the experience, it takes all of our concentration to figure out what he’s telling us.
 
His tales are legendary, and many have occurred while on his many road trips. One incident happened years ago while camping. A freak windstorm suddenly began to uproot one side of his tent. The gales caught his air mattress and began to carry it across the fields. Dad was already well into middle age, but he chased it, hopping fence after fence. The mattress remained just out of reach, until finally, in desperation, he threw himself on top of it. There he stayed through the entire storm, spread-eagled to keep the mattress down, until it was safe to stand up again. He carried it back to the campsite, only to see his tent was gone. He eyes scanned the surrounding ground and saw no trace of it but then he looked up, and there was the tent, snarled high in the branches of a nearby tree.
 
On a more recent journey, he stopped to eat his boxed lunch at a picnic area adjacent to a truck stop. When he was done, he tidied up, tossed his garbage into the bin and resumed his journey. One hundred miles later, he realized his mouth felt mysteriously empty. For some reason, he’d taken out his dentures, then inadvertently tossed them away with the garbage! He turned around and high-tailed it back to the picnic area, only to discover the garbage truck had just done its pick up.
 
This week, he almost met his maker while coming out of a Canadian Tire store. He was carrying a heavy bag of ice salt, and chose the ramp rather than the stairs to get to his car. Turned out to be solid ice. He managed to stay on his feet, but went straight down in one slide. Said he figured the weight of the salt had given him extra momentum. Problem was, he couldn’t stop. Not to worry, though, because he got some assistance. Body-slammed straight into a shed at the bottom of the ramp. Never did drop the salt, though, he bragged.
 
Staying sedentary for too long makes him antsy, so he’s always willing to take on a new handy man challenge. Educators would tactfully call him a creative problem solver. He adds a whole new dimension to the word “resourceful.” Just last month, he installed my sister’s dishwasher, made even more challenging by having to improvise with an old hose. He later explained, in minute detail and with some pleasure, how the exploding hot water actually blew the cupboard doors open. And this summer, he managed to single-handedly put up his backyard patio canopy, a job for three people. Of course, not before having the whole thing collapse on top of him, then having to crawl out sheepishly, eyes peeking furtively from under to be sure no one had seen him.
 
He’s just not your average senior.
 
Not that he thinks of himself as one, either. Just this past summer, he was out bicycling, and came up behind an elderly lady out for a stroll. Said she was a “senior” and may get startled easily, so he didn’t signal with his bell. Instead, he maneuvered to go around her. Big mistake. The wheel of his bike got caught between the sidewalk and the grass, catapulting him over his handlebars and onto the ground in front of her. To hear him say it, it was uproariously funny, even though he’d banged and scraped his forehead and his knee badly. His biggest concern was that he’d nearly given “the little old lady” a heart attack.

 But thankfully, he has learned to take care of himself in other ways. Says he takes that “ecca stuff” to ward off colds and swears by Vitamin C and garlic. And he’s learned to be careful in the sun. Uses sunblock before he goes outside to garden now. He just has to be a little more conscientious about reading labels

The last bottle of sunscreen he generously smeared all over his face got awfully tight after about twenty minutes outside. Said he tried to wipe it off with a tissue from his pocket but it got stuck in shreds all over his face.

Turned out he’d used Elmer’s Glue.

If you wonder, as we often do, how he’s doing after living through all of these misadventures, this is what he told callers whenever the phone rang on his birthday.

He picked up the receiver, and instead of saying hello, simply said “Seventy-seven and still mobile.”

You’ve got to love him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Epilogue: At the age of eighty, he traded the Grand Am for a newer car, a turbo-charged Grand Prix.

 

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