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Over the years I’ve heard the tiresome phrase, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” I never liked the phrase; maybe it sounded too ominous or cynical. Still, I’ve been moved lately to reflect on getting older—I refuse to use the word “old!” But the years are ticking off, and with my birthday a few days away, I thought some reflection after nearly 73 years was overdue.
So, what do I mean when I say that getting older is a “full-time job?” In many ways (depending on the day), living this life demands a great deal of my attention! I realized the changes that I have experienced in just the last couple of years have been a lot to absorb into my adjusted reality. In most respects, the “job” has become more demanding, and with little to no choice about what I want to take on or not.
For example, the physical changes are the most obvious. My legs swell because the little vents in my legs are not working as well as they used to; I can wear compression socks, but those are for old people (!) Plus, they don’t cure the problem. There are the bruises that show up on my arms, my little “beauty marks” that were especially bad with the high dose of prednisone I was taking; fortunately, I’ve been able to reduce the dose, so I don’t look like I was in a boxing match, and I only have my “maturity” to blame. My hair, which has always been such fun to work with, has become much thinner and less curly; it’s hard to know if those are the after-effects of chemotherapy or age. My hairdresser pointed out two new little strands of hair that were starting to grow on my temple. I know she was trying to encourage me, but, well…. And my stamina does not seem as strong, but I’m learning to pace myself and feel stronger every day.
Mentally, I’m going through the usual losses: forgetting words, names, and tasks. I’ve got a well-worn path from my office to the kitchen (and we have tile floors), trying to resuscitate an idea that had been so vibrant only moments before.
And then there are the routines. I used to roll my eyes at friends who seemed to have umpteen visits to various doctors. No more. Once I realized the number of visits I had planned to my internist, my oncologist, my breast surgeon, eye doctor, dermatologist, never mind the ongoing blood draws for my PMR, my arrogance vanished. I’m on a first-name basis with the tech at Quest Diagnostics.
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With all the new adjustments, I’m incredibly blessed to continue some of the most rewarding work of my life. I continue to work with @iwe and our team to more deeply explore Torah, and I love the opportunity to be stretched in my thinking. I’m also grateful for the conversations I have as a hospice volunteer with people who have lost loved ones; I am constantly learning how to be present, how to open to the grieving of others, and how to best support them in just a few words. And I’m very grateful to be able to maintain my physical activity to allow me to do the rewarding work I pursue.
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And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this job has no “bonuses!” There are the deep friendships that become more intimate all the time. There is giving myself permission to take risks, whether I’m trying something new, saying something I might not have said aloud in the past, and speaking up when I feel I have something important to say. There are also the moments when it makes more sense to let things go than to grumble about them. There is stretching myself spiritually, not only in Judaism and reaching out more passionately to G-d, but trying to better understand the religious paths of those people in my life and their experiences. There is exploring new themes in my writing and being surprised sometimes about where they take me. And then there is the intangible relief of having nothing to prove, nothing over which to stress myself, no great milestones to attain or projects to complete for anyone but me or those I love.
This “full-time job,” my life, is quite enough for me.
And the journey continues!Published in