Another Epiphany: I Belong

Life’s a journey, folks. Today was one of those days of awakening.

As I returned home from swimming at the Y, my regular infusion of happiness and well being, , I found myself feeling, at a very visceral level, that I “belonged” at this Holyoke YMCA. With friends, family and neighbors dying, with my eagerness to get out and about diminishing, and my once sustaining professional work no longer filling my mind and heart, I really experienced the deep comfort derived from “belonging” at the Y.

When my favorite lap pool closed for two weeks, I was missing my freedom of movement and I said to myself, “Today, I’m going to give it a go anyway.”  With walker in tow I arrived as usual, and let my friends at the front desk know I needed help navigating myself to the less accessible small pool. I was welcomed and met at every turn by staffers who unlocked doors and guided me around the repairs.  After my freedom swim, they were ready to unlock the doors again and walk me back to the dressing room.  An additional bonus was a serendipitous chat with a woman who had lost 200 pounds and was working on her next 50.

When I left, I felt happy and inspired.  I noticed:  I “belong” here.

So, where did this come from?  

Since listening to Emily Esfahani Smith TED talk on The Four Pillars of Happiness, I am paying more attention to what makes me and my 75+ age peers fulfilled and happy, given that we experience no end of small and large losses as we grow older.

One of the four pillars in Ms. Smith’s research is “belonging.”  It’s true, the knowing that you share a bond with others is what really feels good. We might have that feeling with members of our families, our neighbors, in a support group, as part of a cause, a late-in-life mission, a faith tradition, with comrades,  intimates, at the Post Office, even at my local YMCA where likeminded folks gather to build health and stamina.

“Belonging” was never one of my goals when I was younger.  An independent soul, I was fully employed, active, married (twice), sure of my immortality, doing what I loved, living on the periphery of most groups to which I ostensibly “belonged.” I never acknowledged my neediness for others.  

Aging changes everything.  Now, a solo ager in my 80th year, I’m noticing that “belonging” is becoming a new essential to health, happiness and well being.   While I suspect it’s so at any age, for those of us in the third chapter of life who can easily succumb to isolation, it’s something to which this late arrival to the human race needs to pay attention.

I thank the YMCA folks for prompting this morning’s conversation with myself and for the three questions which emerged:

  • “How can I contribute to the health of  the communities to which I already know I belong?” 
  • “How can I strengthen my bonds with people and groups that are nourishing to me?” 
  • “How can I improve my ability to give and take with those I care about?” (As in asking for what I need, receiving graciously, and offering my help appropriately… )

That’s it for today.   “I BELONG”… it’s a biggie!

Enjoy the referenced TED Talk.

We’re Still Here!

I recently had the opportunity to learn about and to honor  the founder of Providence Ministries, a network of services supporting the poor and needy in the Greater Springfield area.   Sr. Margaret, a Sister of Providence has been a friend for 5 years, yet I never really knew the gifts her vision and leadership have been, and continue to be, to the needy of our community.

At 80, she was honored by friends and supporters in a way that allowed her to see that her very special leadership gifts, and the services they spawned over the years,  will live on.

I can’t imagine a better gift than the tangible one of being acknowledged for a vision and life of service which your donors, supporters and staff have committed to carry on in your memory.  And, to have it celebrated BEFORE you die.  To be very clear, this amazing woman is very much alive and kicking.

Over this last year, in the autumn of my own life, in my 80th year myself, the issue of legacy keeps surfacing in my  mind and heart.  One’s life can matter in so many different ways.  For good and ill.

Thank you, Margaret, for this prompt to put some attention to the legacy conversations I want to have with myself and my elder friends.  We all matter in ways we may not even know ourselves.  And WE’RE STILL HERE with time to make some choices about that.

I AM STILL HERE!

At the end of January, I turned 79…which puts me now in February living into my 80th year.  That is a major milestone. I’m noticing life reflections increase, prompting laughter and tears.  

  • I am happy remembering my long and interesting life.  
  • I am sad for the reminder that I am mortal.  
  • I ponder my choices for the days that remain.
  • And recommit to the activities that nourish my being.

I also pay attention when the occasional model for living well in one’s 80’s comes along.

It happened just three days ago in the woman’s locker room at the YMCA.  A beautiful woman was  returning from her swimming lesson.  Full of vim and vigor, she admitted to being 82. 

“Why take swimming lessons so late in life?”  I bluntly asked.   She knew the answer to that one:  “Four years ago, I lost my husband of 60 years.  When I turned 80, I said to myself,  ‘I miss my husband, but I AM STILL HERE.  IT’S TIME FOR ME TO DO WHAT MATTERS TO ME.’ ”

  • “I’ve always wanted to know how to swim, and now I can.”
  • “I’ve always wanted a tattoo and now I have one”, pointing out the beautiful rose decorating her upper arm. 
  • “A friend twisted my arm to enter the Senior Women of Massachusetts pageant (open to all those over 50), so I did.  I read Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman and ended up as 2nd runner up, and,  Ms. Congeniality.”

What an incredible few moments chatting with such a model.  That serendipitous interaction is still on my mind.  Because…

The Bud

  • I, too, am still here.
  • Anyone reading this is still here.
  • Are we choosing to make our lives matter?