I always thought I would be on the cover of Time Magazine. I’m not sure why I thought that. I’m quite clear that I never had any idea about what accomplishment would promote my picture to this exalted stature. I just felt like, someday, for some reason, I would be recognized.
Then, slowly over the years, I started to acquire this inkling of reality… hmmm, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be on the cover of Time. I probably won’t be on the covers of House and Garden or Psychology Today either. I like to think I’m special, but in reality, the world probably doesn’t need to know about my chocolate chip cookies or my views on psychotherapy. Friends, colleagues, clients and students have appreciated all that I have offered to them over the years, and today, I have come to appreciate THAT recognition as being way more important than the picture on Time. But that process—the acceptance, letting go and making peace-- took quite a bit of work.
When I received my AARP card, I had my first confrontation with the “bridge”- the transition between adult and elder, future and past, dreams and memories. All that I had looked forward to, longed for, shifted into a space of wonderment—how will things be different now?
I was keenly aware of the “bridge.” I was curious about its structure, its length and strength, not knowing what I would need to bring me to this next life stage.
The hardest thing in life is knowing which bridge to burn, and which to cross…
Now as I have gotten a bit older, I feel a bit more sanguine. My focus has changed. I now know that my “bridge” has the strength and length to bring me to THIS phase of my life. I have the awareness, however, that this is just one more phase of the many trials yet to come as I age.
I went from the awareness that as an AARP member, I am considered old, to the welcome realization that I could now receive a bunch of discounts. I then faced the rude awaking of really being “old” when I started receiving Social Security and Medicare. That blow soon felt like a real governmental gift, but then again, it was accompanied, shortly thereafter, with the loss of work identity. Giving up my position as Vice President of Student Affairs at a large state university left me without thousands of students to worry about, and also left me without a business card to call my own. But wait, that’s not all! I then experienced the challenge of not having structure in my life and the loss of meaningful work,….. but at least I was healthy, had leisure and the opportunity to solve theses challenges. Could I just be grateful that I was healthy enough to bake the most delicious salted caramel chocolate chip cookies in the world?
Burn a few bridges
I now understand that with each phase of my aging, I will be confronted with a set of losses- be they physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual. Giving up running when I tore out my knee ligaments was just one loss of many more to come.
So far, I have been able to shift from loss to liberation in many areas of my life. The freedom that my empty nest generated might be considered the most powerful. Yet, I have come to understand that the shift from loss to liberation is not necessarily automatic. It takes letting go, making peace.
This altered perspective, although welcome, can be challenging. It’s like letting go of the old clothes that I packed and carried with me over 10 moves but haven’t fit me in 20 years and are so out of date I wouldn’t wear them if they did fit. But- I am so attached to the memories of wearing those clothes! Hard to do, but time to toss!
Pick up a pen and maybe an eraser
We all have spent a lifetime creating a story about ourselves. Some of that story is positive, full of joy. Yet, woven into that story are failures, our regrets and losses.
The story continues over the years. Often, what keeps that story moving are the fantasies and the hopes, like, next year we’ll buy that big house; sometime in the future, we’ll travel to Europe; someday I’ll be on the cover of Time. Our story is full of reality and fiction, past and future. And then we start approaching what we call … getting older. Now what do we do with that future part of the story?
It’s now time to rewrite it. It’s time to let go of that bad stuff, the feelings, fears and unrealistic fantasies that have gotten in our way for years, and liberate ourselves. Not only do I need to let go of my cover of Time fantasy, but I need to bury that awful boss that made my life miserable.
It’s also time to let go of some of the ‘good stuff,’ or at least reframe it, because it just isn’t so any more. Those exciting years early in my career when a bunch of us were struggling to define feminist therapy, are long past. The memories are part of me forever, but over fifty years, culture, theory and relationships have all changed.
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”—Virginia Woolf
This stirring the pot of loss and liberation, this awareness of both sides of the coin, the letting go of the past and making peace for the future, allows us to rewrite our story.
Tossing my old clothes makes room for new clothes in my closet. Letting go of Time generates time for new creative projects- like this blog. Each stir of that pot empowers us to continue to build a strong bridge to our future, one that is all ours and strong enough for the journey. It allows us to invent our legacy and enjoy the last years, be they two or twenty- who knows.