Last week I had total hip replacement. One way I prepared for it was by imagining myself in three months walking upright, sans pain, sans cane. Walking not just three blocks, but three miles! It was an effective incentive that served me well. Still serves me well.
I find that now it serves me better to live authentically in this liminal time of recovery. As seers say, live in the now. I am trying to be faithful to a grounding meditation in which I release unwanted ego energy (“I should increase my walk today”) into the earth, and draw healing energy from the earth into my hip and leg and whole body. Without that ego clamor I am then able to hear my body tell me what it can and can’t do. This liminal time between disability and ability has become sacred to me. I can only imagine what other lessons will present themselves in the weeks ahead.
Please leave us a note about practices you have for dealing with the in-between times of your life.
photo credit: twiga269 ॐ FEMEN <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24257706@N07/5432841163″>Closeup of a Crevasse, we had just jump over !-)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
I settled into my meditation on the dock this morning, luxuriating in black bird twitters and the flash of red wings. The sun on my back thawed my winterized bones. Ahh, how good to be alone with the divine… until the holy muse quietly morphed into a magnificent Great Blue Heron holding vigil in the water lilies. Her faithful practice spoke to me,”Stand still. Watch and wait. Your authentic self will catch up with you.”
Held my eyes in the mirror this morning
As she spoke her stark truth.
My body has declined.
There is no bringing it back.
Now Is the time of adaptation.
Yesterday, walking the Interurban Trail,
Bikers shouted “Seventy is the new 60. You can do it!”
Dropping me in a whir of wheels and wind
As they passed.
My mind wanders to the memory of another bike ride-
The rush of river rapids
A whiff of mock orange transporting me
To someplace beyond myself,
Hair awry in the wind and thirty-year-old muscles
Giddy With endurance
As they close in on mile thirty.
Grief and gratitude ride the memory with me
Calling me back to the visitor
In the mirror.
Today I live in that place beyond myself
With seventy two-year-old muscles
Wrapped around arthritic bones,
And the heavenly scent
Of mock orange to keep me company.
© Rita H Kowats 2-3-17
Photo Credit: http://www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/phi_lew.html
This poem emerges from a recent conversation with my dear friend Linda in which we commiserated and celebrated our entrance into the stage of The Velveteen Rabbit, scars and bald spots our glorious trophies. Especially the inside ones. Enjoy.
Old people like old barns
Lure light through weathered
Planks in sagging frames.
It spills in speckled streaks
Onto the foundations of their souls
Where young visitors can sprawl
And play at life.
© Rita h kowats 12-2-16
Photo credit: Rebecca Staebler http://www.hubbubshop.com
I have lived here at my 55+ apartment building for three years now. During this time I have been honored to develop a relationship of sorts with Maxine, who is almost ninety years old. A lifetime dancer, Maxine stands at least 5’8”. She carries one trekking pole as a balance aid (I am trying to introduce her to the benefits of two trekking poles!) and her mod clothes always complement her vivid orange hair. For years Maxine has taught line dancing at the local senior center; now she sits on the sidelines dictating instructions to one of her seven children who in turn demonstrates the steps to the class. Once I met her by the elevator and she was excited to tell me she had just gotten “such a deal on potatoes at Costco,” and would I like some? She invited me in and shared five stout bakers with me. We take care of each other at the Blakely. Another time Maxine rode the elevator with me and announced, “You seem like a really nice girl. Would you come for coffee at my apartment?” It was a delightful hour of storytelling evoked by each antique that graced her living room. My most poignant conversation with Maxine occurred the time I came upon her unexpectedly. A look of terror passed over her countenance. She apologized, saying that once she had been assaulted and since then surprise is an unwelcome experience. Today was different. I rode the elevator with Maxine and her oldest daughter, who must be at least seventy-five. Maxine seemed to function well on the surface, but I noticed much more disorientation than I have ever seen before. Her daughter’s demeanor hinted at the beginning of exasperation, and perhaps fear of what lies immediately around the corner. It scares me too. What is it like entering this stage of aging? What can we do to live in it with grace? I am only seventy, yet I have momentary glimpses of it. I like to tell myself these moments of disorientation stem from a physical condition, and they do. But… Living here reinforces what I have longed believed, that we grow old as we have lived all along. I think the way to do this is to live life as the mystics set it before us: let go, let be, live from our deepest being. I am working on letting go of the need to rant about the things that irritate me in a 55+ community. Ranting just gives the negative power over me, and instead of living life, I live the rant. Not pleasant for me or for those around me. The facility of animals to adapt to their environments inspires me. Someday I too will be disoriented; right now I learn how to take care of myself and simultaneously respect the place others are in. In this moment I type on a computer in the communal “office.” It is air-conditioned. My apartment is 90 degrees. It’s working out just fine, too! I may have met some “Chatty Kathys or Keiths” here, but not this time. I’m learning to imagine ahead of time what the effects of my choices might be, so that surprise doesn’t sabbotage me. This leads to more instances of letting be and the possibility of living from my deepest self. I’m far from sainthood. I almost strangled my cat at 3:00 A.M. this morning when she decided it was play time. However, I think I’ve come up with a template for the spiritual practice of growing old. Good luck to you if you share my era, good luck to you if you have to deal with my era!
Life in 55+ housing has no dull moments. I’ve lived on the sixth floor of such a building for two years, and the adjustment has run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, sometimes all on the same day! The elevator provides a rich assortment of spiritual practices around patience and compassion with others and oneself. For example, I’m learning to laugh at myself after I have walked halfway around a hallway in search of my apartment which is on another floor. Hey. If I’m having a lively chat with a neighbor who gets off on floor five, why not continue the conversation? You would think that by now I would have memorized the paintings in front of the elevator on each floor, or at least, look at the floor number before I get off. Then there’s moving days, when through no fault of their own, departing tenants hold up the elevator on their floor. Patience. Tenants on wheels slow things down. Tenants standing in the open door talking or holding it for someone down the hall slow me down. Several times a day I have to let go. It’s ever so good for me; however, my internal dialogue can become quite colorful at times.
We have a custom of putting out unwanted items by the elevator for anyone to pick up. When my cat died I put out her little pink carrier and it was gone within ten minutes. So, on Saturday someone on my floor put out an antique end table with three drawers which I thought could nicely replace the inadequate one I had. I carried it to my apartment and rearranged everything. Excited to re-gift the end table I replaced, I put it out by the elevator. Finally, I settled down to read with all my accoutrements neatly organized nearby. Alas, within the hour I had an allergic reaction. The end table had mold in it. Upon examination, I also discovered a dangling leg. Another opportunity to learn patience. I decided to try taking the high road. I’ll retrieve my inadequate end table and take this one down to the recycling, I thought. I went in search, and you guessed it, the table had already been snatched up. My disappointment was eased by the knowledge that I helped out someone else, just as I thought I was being helped out. The office opening at day’s start yesterday, found me there checking out a cart to take the broken and moldy table downstairs. Outside my apartment, where the table sat, I met Mandy, the house cleaner. She asked what I planned to do with the table. I told her. “Oh, she said, I’ll take it for my daughter’s room. I’m a cabinet maker. I can fix this easily.” And she already had decorating plans for it.
There are days that I long for my spacious condo, sans elevator, but I wouldn’t miss these little opportunities to let go, for the world. I’m convinced that we grow old the way we live. Life in a 55+ is the playground of the sublime and the ridiculous.
At age 69 I have begun to listen to older friends as they cope with losing one friend after the other. Someone said she can go to three funerals a week some months. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that kind of loss and how it must feel After awhile one must just throw up one’s arms and shout, “Bring it on! I’m all alone anyway!” I want to continue with tried and true spiritual practices that have sustained me in the past, and develop new ones to see me through this new stage of aging, which began today with news that my recently deceased sister’s friend has received a sobering diagnosis. The best practice for me seems to hit it straight-on, put it out there where I can see it. So here it is:
First family funerals-
Expected. Sick and aging parents.
We can do this.
We make peace with
The emptiness left by November’s unleaving.*
Life goes on, they say.
And it does.
Then sibling death-
That shouldn’t happen,
But it does.
It doesn’t stop there.
Today I hear November winds howl
Around vulnerable friends
Who stand like dominoes
Waiting their turn.
I feel like the Ancient Mariner,
“Alone, alone, all, all alone, “
Wondering what curse I have called down.
How do we bear this Last unleaving?
Our bare, black spirit -limbs
Are leaved round by brilliant
© rita h kowats
* I am indebted here to Gerard Manley Hopkins for the word, “Unleaving,” coined in his poem, “Spring and Fall.”
** “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Fourth Part