Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The year of being sixty two: bonuses, some of them unexpected.

Well somehow I didn't manage to post December's extract from the year of being sixty two, principally because I didn't write it!  Somehow the coming of Christmas, trying to keep up with my Spanish and the upheaval of house redecorating just squeezed my writing time into non existence.  I had been intending to spend a chapter looking at the upsides of ageing.  From the volume of stuff you read about "anti-ageing" you might suppose that there aren't any upsides, but that's not true.  My mother used to tell me in her forties, fifties and sixties that she would not want to go back, that she was genuinely happy to be where she was in her life.  She would I suspect have stopped the clock before my father began to be ill but even that would have taken them both well into their seventies.  I never totally understood why she was so content with the age she was when we had those conversations but I could see that it was true.   Knowing that has given me a sense, as I have myself grown older, that there must be things to look forward to, secret pleasures perhaps which would be revealed to me in due time.

And indeed there are. 

How do you talk about the pleasures of wisdom without sounding as if you are setting yourself up for a major pratfall?  And yet the most profound pleasure in growing older is in learning to live better, in getting to know yourself and to understand yourself and in learning what matters to you.  And how can those things be anything other than elements of acquiring some form of wisdom?

Sometimes you do this living better consciously.  You face a situation similar to something which has happened to you previously in your life and you remember how you dealt with it before.  Thoughtfully and intentionally you might decide to do it differently.  For me those intentional times are mostly about letting go, letting go of the urge to argue or explain or to put my case.  This is an interesting balancing act because it is important that keeping silent is not the sort of repression which leads to resentment.  It is about thinking whether it really matters, in which case I must speak or act, or whether, in the grand scheme of things I can let it go, open my hand and let it rise gently into the air like a lighted balloon. 

Perhaps more often there is little conscious thought in living more calmly, more easily and more generously.  It is simply that life has thrown a lot at you and, if you are lucky, you have weathered the storms and learnt what to hold close and what to let go.   And would I wish to live again the intensity, even the anguish, of some of my twenties and thirties?  No.  This is hard won, this calm.  It is worth the saggy stomach and the wrinkles around the eyes.  I hold it to me.  I would not swap.


And I suppose that is part of the whole business of being comfortable within one's skin.  I am more confident, less concerned about what others think, less bothered about appearances, my own and other people's, less driven. 

What are the other bonuses?  Being invisible if I wish is a great one after a lifetime of being judged and doubtless judging myself on  my looks.  That is just the currency you take into the world as a reasonably attractive female.  When I started to become less visible in my early fifties I didn't like it much.  Now I have learnt that I can turn it on and turn it off, depending on my clothes, my make up and my mood.  And I find that I like being able to be invisible, or nearly, and simply to observe.  I hadn't realised that visibility as a woman could be a tyranny and how peaceful it can be to slip the cloak on whenever you choose.

Having time is another huge one.  I realise that I am very lucky in this particular sense of time to myself and the sensation has really only emerged following the deaths of my parents and father in law.  Previously the demands of children and of jobs had been almost seamlessly replaced by the demands of others who relied on me.  I hope we still do a lot for other people, particularly our children and grandchildren, but for the first time since I was a teenager there are occasional days when I wake and no one needs me and no job requires me to be somewhere doing something.  I know that this won't last.    This is a precious period when Ian and I are well and have each other and I would swap this time for more time with those that I loved in a heartbeat.  But it is a rare and precious luxury.  Sometimes I sit in bed and watch the sun come through the window in the morning and wrap it around me.

And the other great bonus sits right alongside this time to myself and is a glorious counterweight: adult children and grandchildren.  Having children is simultaneously wonderful and extraordinarily hard.  When mine were young I both loved it and was overwhelmed by it.  I was exhausted and exhilerated and cross and delighted and miserable and content and just about managing pretty much every day.   Some days I felt that the sheer weight of it was rubbing me out.  But having adult children is pretty wonderful, if you like them.  They have become people you really like, like friends but with a deeper hinterland.  And you find that they know stuff which you don't.  You are not responsible for them any more.  They are just out there living their lives but still connected to you by a invisible filament of love.  I love it.  And grandchildren it turns out give you all the deep delight of the best moments of having your own children without taking all your energy and turning your life upside down!  Well that is not quite true, they do turn your life upside down but in ways that give you most of the pleasures and few of the downsides of parenthood the first time round.

So are there bonuses in ageing?  You bet.  I don't mean to be pollyannaish here.  I don't intend to ignore the darker side.  But if I don't articulate what it good I am not being honest either.  And for me there is much that is good, so good that I would not swap with my younger self.

What are your upsides?

20 comments:

  1. I had a similar conversation with a friend today over a long lunch. We are both in our mid 50's and have got to a place in life where the important things come in to focus and all the competitive and nonsensical things that we chase fade into the background. Life is richer and more satisfying and friendships stronger. Great post - worth the wait !

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly about the richness and satifaction of life now. Might be connected with valuing it differently as we age?

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  2. I am with you all the way here I am in my 70s and loving it my bus pass is one great perk and the fact that you can get away with doing or saying things that in your 30s or 40s you wouldn't. I think by now I really know what is important in life and what is not and it isn't some of the things I thought back in my younger days.

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    1. It is interesting to get the perpective of those who are a bit further along the way! I don't think I have yet tried doing or saying things which I would not have done in my thirties and forties. I rather like the idea of becoming outrageous though!

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  3. What a wonderful post. I have only just turned 73 and now have a whole new phase of my life to look forward to. Marigold Jam mentions the bus pass, what we have here in Whangarei as well as the bus pass is when you turn 70 you get free parking. It is great not to have to worry about feeding a metre.

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    1. I am so glad to hear that you feel that you have a whole new phase of life to look forward to! That is a great perspective!

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  4. I've been feeling some fragility and, truth be told, some depression lately, so this isn't the best time to answer, but yes, absolutely there are bonuses. Though I'm not up to enumerating a few of those at the moment, I'd concur with all your points. I'd also refer you to Diana Athill's latest book, Alive, Alive, Oh, and the one before that Somewhere Towards the End (although honestly, I'd recommend them all!). She's wonderful on the joys of old age, writing about it in her late 90s -- One huge pleasure she finds is in revisiting the storehouse of experiences, memories of places, of people, that she's amassed in her lifetime. Such an inspiration.

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    1. I am sorry you are feeling fragile right now mater. I hope that even since you wrote things have changed for you. And yes to Diana Athill! I have read Somewhere towards the End and enjoyed hugely her intelligence and lack of sentimentality. I haven't read the latest one but I will.

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  5. Wonderful description of love for your adult child; invisible filament of love. I will remember that one. So agree with your post, lots of upsides to being 60. Definitely a confidence that was never present in youth. Having time after years of parenthood and looking after elderlies. Time to travel when you want, no longer constrained by a working agenda. Volunteering for something important to you. A good age. Barbara

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    1. I agree that's it's a good age and I think it's odd that it's not more widely talked about as a really good time of life!

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  6. That waking up in the morning
    and the list that unscrolls isn't must should ought
    but can could, shall I?

    The pneumonia has focused my mind on enjoying the good bits, now they have returned.

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    1. I'm so glad your health had returned Diana. and it does concentrate the mind doesn't it?!

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  7. I kept reading phrases in this post that would make me think, "Oh, how true, I need to comment on that!" but there were so many that I would have had to just quote the whole post.You summed it all up so beautifully! Some of these things I've not yet experienced (grandchildren, for example) and some I am still working toward (calm....) but some have been a lovely and delightful surprise, like the friends my adult children have become ('invisible filament of love'...oh, that is gorgeous). A bit like a consolation prize for some of the things and people one has to say goodbye to.

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    1. absolutely Caroline. there are challenged and losses, of course there are, but huge compensations!

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  8. A great post, and oh, so true. I'm 56 this year and have weathered a few storms ever! Now a Grandma, my relationship with my daughter has deepened and the sheer pleasure of that little baby is worth everything. My other two children and his Grandpa are equally drawn in by him. And over the years that mousey little me has been replaced by someone much wiser and more able to say what she wants and feels! I am loving my fifties, and appreciating everything, Jane x

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    1. I've always been close to my children but I do so agree that there is a deepening of that relationship when they have children of their own!

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  9. There is so much in this that I find to be true. My life is so much more settled, I have the luxury of time and I worry so much less. I had a very unsettled childhood, orphaned before my teens and brought up by my siblings, who were quite young themselves. I always felt that there had been no one to guide me, and I had to go through making each mistake, many of them painful. But I got there, and would not go back for anything.
    Perhaps, as a keen gardener, it is just that "to everything, there is a season.

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    1. I have always loved the quote "to everything there is a season" and the song too. in fact it is stuck in my head now!!

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  10. Elizabeth, you put it so well. So many storms weathered, so many crises survived and yes, we do become more comfortable, finally, in our skins, even though the skin is now wrinkling and sagging. I don't think any of us would wish to return to more turbulent times. The gifts of wisdom, time to ourselves, grown-up children and optional invisibility are all hard won. I can't comment yet on grandchildren but I hope, one day, to find out about the pleasures and demands they bring. These are the golden years as long as health is fairly intact, and to be savoured knowing we have earned them.

    Today, I am coming to terms with the very recent death of an old friend, a contemporary and a truly wonderful man, husband and father. A gold thread running through my life. Losing parents is hard but losing friends is yet another challenge to be faced in the years to come. So, yes, the darker side of ageing. But much to celebrate.

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  11. I usually just remember perhaps the one thing we can't change in our lives is the day we were born, so we just have to get on with it! (And that's an unusually positive outlook for me!)

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