I turned 68 recently. By 68, my father was dead. My husband’s father lived to half that age, but both of our mothers endured to over 90. A birthday that recalls one’s parents is an obvious site for reflection so it is not surprising that even as I blew out my candles surrounded by my family, as the candles flickered, I thought of what my father had missed by passing so young.
Yet, in surveying my days, I am grateful for all I have experienced. Not too long ago, a friend said that she wouldn’t want to do “it” all over again. I was surprised. She had had many careers and I thought of her as a contemporary renaissance woman. She had a loving family, grandchildren, security. Without pondering, I immediately thought, I would definitely do it all again.
Maybe with the insights of maturity, I would alter a few of the moments that still bristle with decisions made too quickly or unkindly. Several have to do with my kids, the others with students. For the most part, I think my decisions were sage, hopefully made with kindness and not too much because of anger. But I suppose if we started fresh, we would not own the knowledge of our mistakes, and thereby incur new ones, and growing up in different times, all would change.
There is so much in a life, the good and bad, the high and the low. Not a startling revelation but it caused me to think of the meditation I’d heard in my Mind-Body Class ,( perhaps a second cousin to Mindfulness). I never thought of myself as the self-help kind of girl, but the time and the price were right and the topic would serve as rebuilding a bridge between my resurrected friend of 42 years, and so I engaged.
The week I pondered engaging in this endeavor, even the Baycrest Hospital dispersed articles that linked mindfulness to neuroplasticity and John Kabat-Zinn, the guru of the movement, known by a greater number of people than I would have imagined.
So I had located a class at the community centre and opened my head to what is becoming a trend and “ mindfulness”: a word bantered around by curious seekers. In one particular session, the instructor provided a meditation that suggests one visualizes, then inhabits, then becomes a mountain. The gist has to do with the changes of the seasons, the variety of animals that pass over the mountain, the onslaught of clouds and sunshine, and still, the mountain stays rooted, observing, unchanging, always watchful. Something felt good about that.
Once the class finished, I tried to continue with meditations: on the internet, podcasts for 10 minutes or so, but I must admit the immediacy of having someone right beside you in the dark, focused on the voice that is guiding you, really is more powerful than the words on a machine.
This mountain meditation made me think of Rose, the more than 80 year old from my figure drawing class. Although now suffering from disc issues, Rose pauses before she struggles up the two flights of stairs to the class on Thursdays. She says at her age, her ailments could be worse so she doesn’t complain although one can read the pain in her face. Her sparse hair is coloured and coiffed, her eyes are discretely drawn in brown pencil along with a light red lipstick that outlines her lips. She is no pushover, she smiles. She is the one who manages the models and makes the calls for the group. She exudes strength.
One day, she confided in me that her son died at 50 and also her husband passed away quite young, and she was very depressed. But, she said, she had a choice and she decided to go on, to be happy. She said she has made a list and all the good things outweigh the bad. She says that continuing to live afforded her opportunities she had never anticipated and that she has had a good life, beamingly proud of her children and grandchildren ( all professionals, she quietly boasts with a smile). She lives alone although it is increasingly difficult, particularly the stairs, but she says they are her exercise and she attempts to maintain her mobility by climbing them daily, even pausing as she does en route to the art class. She also says she’s ready to depart this world when the time is right.
I think of my parents, my father so young; my husband’s father so much younger: what they have missed. With both my parents, I wish I had the conversations I reflect on now- to gather their ideas, to hear and compare them to my own. Just today I read of Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbelt. The famous pair are recommending that parents and children ask one another questions about their lives, before it is too late. Both a book,The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Loss and Love and a documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid, will record their sessions. No doubt some revelations will be universal, others bizarre or beyond our daily realm.
In San Diego, Howard and I did an art tour on the college campus. Rarely have we felt so ancient, for that world is populated by the very young and we were cast back to ourselves more than forty years ago on the U of T campus. We fretted , how has the time gone by so quickly. Once we were carefree, arrogant, making choices, setting on our paths- that have lead us here to this grassy spot. It is an overwhelming thought : to have passed so many years and to have arrived at this juncture.
I imagine these are the thoughts of most baby boomers my age who truly believed they would never be old.