Conscious Aging III: Tell Your Story

Yes, tell it!  It’s one of your legacies and a pleasure in the process. Consider seriously reprising your story in writing, on video tape, in labelled photos, or asking for help from a younger member of your brood. No doubt it does take time and effort to reflect on your life, your gifts, your contributions and your trials and tribulations.  Let it be a worthy challenge to learn from your own trajectory through the years.  

Personally, I’m delighted to meet those who have illuminated their life stories for others, and now I am one. I’ve contributed my 133-page-thus-far life-story to the Johnson Family Archives. It clearly brought back memories and offered up previously unacknowledged life patterns.

Think about it!  I’m 81!  My generation’s life spans so many changes.  The list is long:  the days of prosperity following WW II, the woman’s movement, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, permission for same sex marriage,  breaking the glass ceiling for women, the technology revolution with computers and social media (with which I have a hard time keeping up), the polarization within our democracy, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic. And, I’ve probably missed a bunch.   Basically change is now constant and the aging of the extra sizable Boomer generation, as we speak,  promotes even more options for significance during our unanticipated gift of longevity.

If we do not gather our stories, many of the rich experiences in life, our excitements, our travails, our perspectives, and our wisdom will die with us.  I am one who wished I had asked my mother many more questions before she died. I am determined now to gather my story for my nieces and nephews, whose children, one day, may want to know “Who was Aunt Martha?”

A few years ago at my Senior Residence, I happened to be convening a gathering on the question: “How are we sharing our heritage with the generations that follow us?”

What an amazing meeting it was! One neighbor, Sister Connie, the youngest of 12 in her family,  had worked in Africa for 30 years as a missionary.  She was so appreciated in her region that a building was named in her honor.  Her many nieces and nephews, having reached  their 50s, were starting to ask, “what did you do over there?”  She decided to respond with a simple 30-page memoir….and, it became  a document in demand.

Another neighbor’s relatives had been gathering data on family history for many years. She updates a monstrous data base at the bi-annual reunions which draw at least 200 people. Given this family’s black heritage, all reunions are located where the youngsters can learn about the black history of their forebears. 

Another 80-year old neighbor had prepared, way back in 1984, her own book of history with pictures and text as a gift to each of her 5 children. A real opus and labor of love on display.

It was truly wonderful to have had this chance to learn more about our neighbors and to be inspired by each of their efforts.  For most folks, nothing is more important than telling a part of the unique life story which is theirs, particularly their navigation of their up and down transitions…. and having someone listen and care.  

For we who are older, I think it is an essential survival mechanism too often overlooked. 

Conscious Aging II: Master the Transition(s)

Yes, for a year, as a nation, from March 2020 to March 2021, we’ve been moving through difficult times.  Now, the pandemic may be moving into a new phase. On a personal level, it’s been one messy life shift which completely challenged our “normal” patterns and routines. We have survived and we will survive, perhaps even creating a more conscious new normal for ourselves. Some of my aging friends are welcoming the new “slowness” and may want to embrace it ongoing.

At just the perfect time for reflecting on what has happened to us , Bruce Feiler’s new book LIFE is in the TRANSITIONS, Mastering Change at Any Age (2020) lands in my lap.  Feiler’s thesis is that life should now be considered non-linear.  The changes are happening so fast that we practically live our days from transition to transition, whether they be the smaller disruptions in our expectations and lived realities, or, the larger ones he calls, “lifequakes.”

For me, a major “lifequake” started at age 57 when I was diagnosed with MS, and it took me 17 years before I finally felt like I had come “home” to a new life.   Many disruptions were included in those 17 years:   A residential move to Massachusetts from Washington DC, a divorce, the letting go of my business and my identity as a businesswoman, a major healing after visiting John of God in Brazil, becoming a published writer and poet, selling the family property, and making a local move to a senior residence, to name a few.

Another major “disruption”  started at 74 at the death of my brother. I finally accepted my own mortality, started planning for my remaining days, even helping others do the same.  My new life shifted to that of a consciously aging being.  It remains so. I’m still dealing with the messy residue of that disruption, getting older,  breaking my addiction to productivity, and reflecting on the blessings, dilemmas and choices of life’s fourth chapter.

And then there’s been the pandemic. 

Bottom line, at 81, it’s been illuminating to look back on life. At whatever age, we can harvest the lessons, determine to avoid the guilt of an unlived life, molt mind-sets, convictions, routines, and dreams, and convert our rich life experiences into wisdom.  We can turn episodic memories into a meaningful life journey which matters.

 

A Bruce Feiler definition:   A transition is a vital period of adjustment, creativity and rebirth that helps one find meaning after a major life disruption.    I invite you to take this post-pandemic opportunity to make sense of your life and honor it.  Enjoy!  If any of you readers choose to reflect in this way, or in any way you have found yourself thinking about “the pandemic and you,” I’d love to hear about it (mjggdi@comcast.net.) Here’s a start!

First, make a list of the life changing disruptions and lifequakes you experienced over your lifetime.  Then ask yourself questions about any or all of them.

  • What were your losses?  Consider people, places, relationships, beliefs, and ways of being.
  • How did you adjust to, and ultimately honor and manage, each one?
  • What parts of your personality served you?  Did not serve you?
  • What feelings emerged?  Consider loneliness, anger, sadness, confusion, joy. 
  • How did you and your family become creative in dealing with the disruptions?
  • What provided, and continues to provide nourishment and fulfillment? 
  • What did you learn about you, others, and your life?
  • Are there lessons, growth, and new choices which could be unearthed?
  • What questions do you want to ponder with more frequency and depth?
  • If you were to create a “new normal” for yourself, what would it look like?    

And so it goes…

Conscious Aging I: Take Time to Listen for Your Calling

“With this first post on January 24th of the 2015 New Year, on my 75th birthday, I signaled a shift!”.  (Please note, readers in 2021, the post of 6 years ago, immediately following, inaugurated my days of “aging” more consciously.)

“Rereading what I’ve been posting throughout 2012 – 2014 on three sites, looking through the lens of a solo-ager living partway through the third chapter of life (60 – 90+),  I’m  noticing what’s been calling to me over these last years.

And then BOOM, several months ago, it finally became clear enough to share.

I want to more consciously shine the light on this  final journey we’re all on, whether or not we choose to be aware of it. I want to learn from my own perspectives, discoveries, and needs, as well as those of others.   I want to share about what seems to be important as we travel this path.  I want to encourage thinking about each life as a legacy.   As I personally navigate the dilemmas and delights inherent in the remaining years of my journey, most of which I never anticipated, I want to put them on the radar screen of those in their early 60’s who are  just entering this chapter.

This ongoing shift into my own awareness of aging, really accelerated when my brother died unexpectedly in February 2014 at 68.  Not only did I “get” at a visceral level that I, too, will die.  I started obsessing about,  “Now, how am I going to live?”   Thinking about how to be creatively present during my remaining years I’m finding to be a joyful, hopeful, challenging, and really fun place.   What else it there to do but to plan to live fully and age gracefully?   Likely that my websites will start their slow process of migrating and consolidating toward this new, compelling exploration of how to live well to the end.  A tentative book title emerged yesterday:  Navigating Your Later Years ….for those who know they will die, and intend to live well all the way to the end.

My real message is this:   For those entering your third chapter or currently living through it, be open to the possibility that you do know what remains for you to do.  Listen to what you really love and take it seriously.   Listen for any earlier dreams that are calling to be  revisited.  Listen for the regrets you still have time to rectify.  Listen for what really matters to you.  

You only have one life and sooner or later, it will end.  

In the meantime, nothing is more thrilling, nor more worth your time, than listening, and paying attention to what is calling to you, and starting to do something about it.”