Is It Time for Reflection?

“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things…”

I’ve been experiencing some of those many things over July and August of this year.  You probably have your own list.

For instance, there’s joy in the fact that in my senior living community, the mask requirement has been removed. But it’s coupled with the deep sadness, anger, and anxiety at those who have refused to vaccinate in a time when the delta variant is spreading everywhere, and hospitals are in overwhelm.   The mask requirement may return as the death roll rises due to the failure of many in our nation to cooperate.  

In August, with great happiness, I welcomed a visit from my former Peace Corps partner in Colombia (from 58 years ago). A week later I was in shock and tears learning of her heart failure and death upon returning to her Cartagena, Colombia home. 

In addition, I am just tired.   I feel the declines of advancing age and the impact of the onslaught of political polarization affecting all of us (abortion, voting rights, climate change, inequalities of all sorts). 

As the ups and downs of personal and national confusion invade my life,  I find myself concurrently reflecting on my 81 years on the planet.  I am determined to celebrate this life that is mine.  September has become,  the “If not now, when?” moment.    Continuing my efforts to provide more documentation to the Who Was Aunt Martha Anyway? life history contribution for our Family Archives, I’m preparing a video about  the professional Glory Years of my 40’s and 50’s.  It was then when my work with Thought Selection was thriving, the popular Breakthrough Program had been created, and my Growth Dynamics business was flourishing.  Old video tape highlights of these special times are simply not yet ready to be tossed out.  

Those Glory Years eventually came to an end, (or perhaps I should say a move to Massachusetts from Washington, DC, a major illness, and a divorce inaugurated the next, and also interesting and growth producing, phase of my life.) Right now, however, my memories of those “Glory Years” deserve savoring.

The walrus was right…there are many things to talk about and we can go beyond the  “shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—of cabbages—and kings…”. Poet Lewis Carroll

What are the many things in your life over the last two years which have been challenging, despairing, tiring, or all three?  During these times, none of us need feel alone in that space of fear and not-knowing.

However, I invite you to also notice, and talk about,  the moments of joy, hope, possibility, love, and emerging clarity about what’s important, and what’s next. 

 For me, taking time to stop and reflect has brought some welcome insights.

 

PS.  You may want to check out the September 2021  Martha’s Musings for more about my epiphanies.  If you are not subscribed, send me an email at mjggdi@comcast.net

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…