My friend has lived in a “place” for oldsters for the last 4 years. Her husband died about 3 years ago. Before that, her youngest child died after a long battle with cancer. And recently, less than a year ago, her only daughter died. She mourns the loss of her home which grounded her, gave her peace, supported her creativity, cushioned life’s hardest knocks. She’s mourning the loss of her daughter and son who’ve died, and loss of another who sees red when she says green.

Does old age bring happiness? The topic of a NYTimes op-ed  on December 5th brought many comments. These spoke to me; “I am 95, and my mind is still functioning, I have an excellent memory, and a great family and friends — all of whom are one, two or three generations younger than I. I am content, but not happy. I miss my husband and the many friends of my generation…” And this; “Mr. Brooks should walk down the halls of America’s nursing homes and see the number of elderly women sitting in the hall outside their rooms, staring listlessly into space most of the day, or hear their screams of “help!” at night, repeated again and again…”

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The elderly in this country are essentially invisible. We have little role in society. Much of our time is spent looking after our aging bodies…” Last quote, I promise; “Mr. Brooks suggests that elders have more empathy, knowledge and maybe wisdom. Yes, some, but many do not. Surely he has seen the stubbornness, the surviving hatred and the loss of perspective that too often accompanies old age, not to mention of those in need, physically, emotionally and financially…”

Yesterday in a store I cringed at the check-out counter, seeing the employees with their cheery faces and wearing holiday hats. I hoped they would not bestow Christmas wishes upon me in that sugary sincerity that sets my teeth on edge. And not just because I’m not Christian, don’t celebrate Christmas and don’t appreciate all the frou-frou Christmas songs, decorations, false cheer that abounds. What about if you’re my friend, and cannot smile even with all this the in-your-face holiday cheerfulness?

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I stand on the outside of Christmas yet I’m amazed when people stare at my son who talks too loud, or has a temper tantrum in a public place. Where’s the hearty ‘love your fellow man’ spirit? We all know to try not to judge the person badly for parking in the “Handicapped” space when we see them get out and walk to the store. We can’t always SEE a disability or disease or mental illness. (Card, right; Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. Quote by Barbara DeAngelis)

The word depression doesn’t light up on our foreheads for the rest of humanity. If they could see the word wouldn’t they take note and then treat the wearer tenderly and with compassion? Maybe. I don’t have answers to the December dilemma.This is what Jews call the fawning Christmas-ness that occurs in December that doesn’t include the stranger or the outsider. It also doesn’t offer the deep need we all have to connect sincerely to other people, to feel kindness and respect because we live and breathe, have hopes and dreams, no matter our age, infirmities, and abilities.

When I’ve been in depression I rarely went into stores beyond shopping for food. I didn’t pay attention to much of anything around me, or anyone. But I have learned to appreciate freedom from depression. And I love my friend and feel pain for her losses and her circumstances. Sometimes all we can do is feel. I’ve been carrying this quote around with me, by Richard S. Wheeler a western novelist from a book published in 1983, Winter Grass;

“We have to keep letting go of things before we can grasp the future. The more we cling to what was, the more we freeze ourselves where we are. Like excess baggage on a long journey. How do we get where we’re going encumbered by it all?”

Here’s a young woman who figured out how to let go. Trash the Dress.

Stay warm.

P.S. The top card has an Irish blessing; “May the blessing of light be on you. Light without and light within.” I apologize for getting this out today, the first day of January. Originally written December 5th. Oh well, these things happen.

From where I sit on the sofa, there is a small chink in the curtains at one dining room window. And the angle is such that I can sense the rapid movement of cars on the street beyond my neighbor’s yard and sidewalk. Without even looking up I feel (see?) flashes of movement. It reminds me of how we can look back over our life experiences and they too can have a rapidity of movement. Is it so long ago that I sat on the porch step, pregnant, looking at the mountains, clouds, birds, the garden, the children? Taking deep breaths and thinking; I’ll always remember these moments. Why yes, that time was ages ago, waiting for my 4th child.  Born in 1983, she is now 30 years old.

“By the time you’re eighty years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.”  -George Burns

Yesterday I watched a musical performance by a favorite group. I want to share the Young@Heart chorus with you. Tears ran down my face as the members sang with elementary school students. The chorus is composed of retired women and men who live in New Hampshire.  At this point they’ve produced several CD’s, have toured Japan and the Netherlands and of course across the U.S., and performed with some music stars. The leader takes rock music hits and with this group transforms them into musical magic. I love watching them, and admit to singing along. And usually crying too. Sometimes hope can be justified by an action of others. And such is the case here- at least for me.

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”  -Lucille Ball

“Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.”  -Charles Schultz

So I’ve been thinking about “forever young” since yesterday. When I was in my 30’s a woman I knew and worked with, probably about 55 to 60 years old and quite out of shape, let’s say, showed me her wedding pictures. There was a beautiful young woman, svelte, wearing the latest 1950’s fashionable wedding gown, in a size 4 or 6. Looking pensively at the photo she remarked to me; inside I still feel like that young woman.

“The great thing about getting older is that  you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”  -Madeline L’Engle

What’s most important to me is experiencing life. Enjoying nature. Spending time with people I can laugh with, reminisce with, or argue, converse and engage. Trying new things, whether a new recipe, a new vacation spot, a new idea. And along the way; getting enough sleep, having chocolate in the house, meeting new people and dear friends, and a large amount of knitting “wool” available for my use. Oh and a  large stack of books to read. I’m sure I’ll think of other things I should have included here, but that’s not my point. Life is a grand journey and I think allowing ourselves to experience and enjoy our lives, is the “forever young” part that we all want to grasp.

“Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.”  -Jennifer Yane

I have to tell you this aging business is something. I am now 5 months into being 60 years old. SIXTY !!  What does it mean to be 60? To look, think, act as a 60 year old?

Remembering things is one of the most difficult tasks now. Sometimes even frightening, because I’ve already burned pots of beans and let noodles over-cook. I must now set the timer – but even that I forget to do. Leaving and then re-entering to check the stove is not an uncommon event.

Around my face, my hair shimmers with silver. The small bits of 20 years ago have turned into much bigger swaths, but that doesn’t bother me. I never cared much for primping. I always liked me, and if someone else did or didn’t that was on them. My body is not as supple, and not a yoga enthusiast, I start each day with some stretching. If I don’t stretch, then I move like… well, like an old person. How’s that for reality with a dash of humor on top?

What is unchanged? I am as adventurous and enthusiastic as ever, but seem to have a bit less energy. My job keeps me on my feet 3 hours or more per shift. So now I need more supportive shoes to keep standing without pain. For the first time ever I have spent more than $20 on a pair of athletic shoes, which we used to call sneakers or sneaks- in order to stay on my feet as long as I must when at work or even on my walkabouts.

*Accompanying photos by author; Signs of Autumn and Fall Knitting [a 4 stranded winter scarf of bright colors].

I guess this is Part 1. Today, October 7, 2012, I felt moved to write what has become my reality, but don’t look for Part 2. It may not happen. Isn’t it odd what we can become used to? All this is of little merit after spending hours yesterday, watching [PBS.org; Independent Lens] a beautiful and disturbing new movie to accompany the book by the same name; Half the Sky, by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof.

At the age of 60 I still feel moved to make a mark, my mark, on the world. Can’t tell you how or what it would look like. Amazed and inspired by the women profiled in Half the Sky. Watch the preview, and then the whole thing. What can you do to add to this Stone Soup of our world?