The sun gods were kind to my cousin Ryan and Martha, who planned their wedding in a forest. Traveling down dirt roads, we marveled at the countryside with little markers to save a tree or two to tell you where to turn till we arrived at a magical glen.
Such are the events that make history happen, those small little moments where you are glad you show up and witness happiness at the start.
Ryan’s parents meant the world to us. They always were ready to lend their home, their hearts, and sane advice. Time was when Suzanne, first cousin to my late husband Alan, could do no wrong. She was so tall and elegant and knew how to throw an impeccable party. She did much to improve my etiquette and style. Her husband, Jeff, an allergist by trade, (though his signature was an orange polo shirt colored with kindness) was called “Disneyland Dad”. Time was when we laughed. together shopped together, shared about our children and planned for a glorious future. Ryan helped to forge us together, as did his sisters.
Funny how you grow old and many that you loved are no longer with you. It’s so easy to lose touch and go separate ways.
So here we are, in Martha’s Vineyard, with the rain softly cascading, munching Wise potatoes chips (a guilty pleasure) while reminiscing about turning 75.
Wow–75! That is hard to fathom. Where did that chubby-cheek little girl with the wide, blue eyes go? What, if any, wisdom has she garnered and what new roads lie ahead?
I love birthdays. Always have. I always imagine that Tina Turner will appear and sing Proud Mary just for me. And last night I did dance like it was my first prom as the band seemed to know only my songs. And there I was, like a teen once again, dancing the night away.
Today as I sit inside, listening to the rain drift in and out, lost in reverie as a caterpillar crawls by. Where have all the Mondays gone? Those endless times of waiting for the time that whatever I thought was important came to pass.
What I have learned is there is always possibility as long as one remains open and curious. The other day someone inquired if I was retiring. I replied, no, I love my craft and as long as I am relevant I will continue.
Which leads me to think about some of the funniest things I have discovered
- I finally have big tits! All my life I longed for more than an A-cup and now my ladies fill out
- I can no longer get pregnant. God knows in my fertile years I did. I had four pregnancies and have 3 grown daughters who are fierce and commanding, beautiful and bright.
- No more periods. I can always wear white jeans! That is, if I can fit into them.
- I am free of child rearing. Although if dogs count, I traded in all the children for two golden doodles – Teddy and Coco. While they don’t talk, they do demand attention. their love, however, is always unconditional and the problems they have are truly little ones.
- I get to love, love, love my grandchildren and send them home. I can love them, spoil them, share special time with them, take them places, buy them things and at the end of the day, they go home to their parents. What joy that is.
- I say what I want without worrying if I offend you. And if I offend you, I know how to make amends. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, yet there are still those who welcome my thoughts
- I get to the hotel room closest to the elevator. I do a lot of traveling and speaking and I am always given the room near the elevator. I can’t decide if they think I won’t remember where I am or if it’s in case we need a quick getaway, I am nearby.
- I am a digital immigrant and wrote my dissertation on a legal pad. Though I flunked typing, I am now a wicked three finger typist. I also use social media – Facebook, Instagram. That way I can see what my kids are doing even if they don’t want me to see. And I use it for marketing my services. No, I have yet to defect to Tik Tok.
- Seriously though, I am a member of the first generation of women who have worked most of our lives – we are the wealthiest women in the world.
- Which leads me to the fact that I have yet to give up my day job. The truth is I love to work and can’t imagine not helping others.
Psychologists have asked folks to assess their own well-being and the results are fascinating. People in their twenties rate themselves highly and then there’s a decline as people get sadder in middle age, around the age of 59. Perhaps it is due to career demands, aging parents and rearing and launching children – all very demanding tasks. But the happiness level shoots back up for old folks like you and me. In fact, old people rates themselves happier than young people and the people who rate themselves the happiest are those ages 82-88.
Perhaps as we age, we are spared the burden of looking to the future. When we are younger, there are more days ahead, so we look from junior high to high school to college to marriage to divorce to marriage again to widowhood to this job and that one, to children being good to children acting out, to illness, and on and on. For older folks, I think we start looking at life in the rearview mirror, reflecting and relishing in the time we have left. In AA, the focus is on one day at a time and by age 82, we may just have mastered that.
David Brooks, the NY Times columnist, writes about aging and moral virtue. He shares that about once a month, he runs across a person who radiates an inner light. They are the kind of folks that Erik Erikson wrote about, saying they have ego integrity. I am sure there are a lot of people who radiate inner joy. These kinds of folks listen, they make you feel funny and validated. You often catch them looking after other people and they do so with a laugh that is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
All of you have met this kind of person. They might even be sitting next to you today and, no doubt, many of you are that person. The one who has achieved that generosity of spirit. Brooks and others have discovered there are two kinds of virtues: the resumé-career virtues and the eulogy virtues, the ones that are talked about at your funeral. Eulogy virtues are things like honesty, kindness, bravery, generosity, etc.
But these virtues are not forged on Wall Street, rather, they are experienced and lived inwardly and outwardly. How do these folks nurture and grow these amiable character traits? I think it begins with a humility shift. In the midst of the selfie, look-at-me cultural moment we are experiencing where everyone gets a gold star, these folks have identified their character defects, usually selfishness, and learned how to turn it around. In other words, they have self awareness, not self-centered-ness. This reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book, Oh the Places You’ll Go. This story has an individualistic worldview that says I can do it on my own. But the road to character and self-mastery is never travelled alone – it’s done in groups.
As I write today, I must thank my 95-year-old mentor and professor, Dr. Glen Hayworth. He has all the qualities that Brooks speaks about. I met him at the ripe old age of twenty when I was a graduate social work student. He had me read all these strange and mysterious books –
- William Barret’s Irrational Man – which posited that no one was actually rational, a thought that never crossed my mind.
- Ernest Becker’s Birth and Death of Meaning.
- Sheldon Kopp’s – If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him, which inextricably changed the course of my thinking.
My mentor allowed me to create strong poetry and encouraged me to respond to my authentic self, all the while chortling multi-syllable words telling me I was good enough, smart enough, and so forth. How I cherished that new, foreign label — good enough, smart enough. He saw something I did not see and today, even though glaucoma is steadfastly taking his eyesight and his wife of 50 years just died, he shares that he has a new levity in his heart. He holds philosophical discussions with others, writes by dictating and the last time I came to visit, he cut my visit short as a woman of a certain age wanted to have lunch with him.
For Dr. Hayworth, learning has truly been life long. For me, I stumbled into his path quite accidentally and teetered through his classes, basking in his belief in me. I was the Stumbler who scoffed through life a little off-balance. That’s not surprising with 5 sudden deaths, mental health, alcoholism and suicide rolling through my family. As a Stumbler, I have experienced moments of joy and unexpected transcendence. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my children, grandchildren and husband—yet that is another volume.
Most of the time I am a storyteller, I am busy telling, encouraging, promoting, and motivating my clients. Showing them that they have the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest, to tell their story and create a new narrative. The truth is, we tell the story of our lives retrospectively, which means what happens next will inform what you think of the present. Whatever is going on can’t be understood from where you stand. Those who are fortunate enough to stumble when they are going often grasp that early and have a better chance of writing bold and vibrant subsequent chapters.
That brings me to today. My life has been characterized as “being born on a fault line of tragedy and emotional wreckage” where, as a child, I stumbled through deceptions, substance abuse, unexpected deaths (father’s suicide, son’s death) and mental health disorders.
As such, I was not the dancing queen that whirls to The Bee Gees, Abba, Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson. Now, I am actually the 75-year-old who wears corrective lenses, has had cataracts removed, a knee replaced, and a few shots of Juvéderm to remove those fine lines. Through it all, I write bold and vibrant.
As we get older, I do believe we gain something we didn’t have before: resilience. Resilience, as author Jesse Sostrin says, is a personal act of defiance. Resilience is like super competency, influencing so many other skills like decision making, the ability to write this speech on a cross-country plane ride, not getting mad when people call me “ma’am”, trying on a one piece bathing suit and wondering why don’t they make them with sleeves?
As we age, I believe we become masters of emotional elasticity, of flexibility, of a personal strength that gives us a sense of safety in a chaotic world.
After all, we went from black and white screens to flat screens, from landlines to cell lines, from going to the grocer to Door Dash. Aging takes us from loving to losing to loving again, from parenthood to widowhood, from running to walking from Jazzercise to Pilates, from not knowing to knowing, from bouncing back to bouncing forward, from falling down to Falling Up.
In these unprecedented times of trauma, we’ve experienced natural disasters, wars, racism, Covid and more. Which brings us to the point that no matter who you are or how old you are, you can always build a fierce arsenal of resilience. You can always FALL UP!
So In closing here are some tips which I offer you today:
- Make connections – there is power in talking with others and being in community.
- You will make mistakes – these are guideposts for new beginnings. Courageously embrace them.
- You will grieve those you have loved and lost and those that never were.
- You will have arguments and you will win and lose friends and relatives.
- You will journey near and far – take trips as they are presented to you, paint cornfields. Your minds and bodies will change. Stay true to a spirit of health. Your body may take twists and turns you may not like. Get over forcing yourself to lose that 5 pounds.
- Take time out each week to do something physically and emotionally consistent with your values.
- Your children will grow because of and in spite of you. Give them opportunities to grow, to stumble, to fall down. And be there no matter what setting healthy boundaries along the way.
- You will achieve success and failure along the way. Each one is a lesson, for without failure, there is no success.
- Friends and family may please and disappoint you. You may please and disappoint them as well. You can choose who you want your family to be. If some friends appeared and disappeared, they were likely there to teach you something. We cannot repair that which has not been broken.
- Not everything that happens is the worst thing in the world. Make lemonade out of lemons. No fight needs to last forever. Do not confuse temporary for permanent.
- Be mindful, wake up every day and say three things you are grateful for. Be of service. Think outside the box.
- Lastly, your viewpoint is ultimately your responsibility.
Know that all of you are beautiful, no matter what age you are, and whatever stumbling blocks may come your way, you can always Keep Falling Up!
Thank you for being you.