I celebrated my birthday this week. I turned 72, a number that boggles my mind and makes me wonder where the time has gone. It is a cliche but it is also true that I feel as though I am still quite young, perhaps no more than 32. In my mind I still have dewy wrinkle free skin, silky brown hair, and enough energy to tackle a mountain climb. In reality I no longer fool anyone with my age. I am an older lady, albeit one who is not yet ready to settle for a final journey. I still have enough zest to make the most of the hours in each of my days. I can still work for hours laboring even though I know that I will ache after my efforts. I intend to make the most of my journey on this planet for as long as I am able, but these days I do so with a kind of patience and slowing of pace that has eluded me for most of my life.
I now have the gift of time and it is a glorious thing. I was already enjoying the perks of retirement but my type A personality pushed me to fill my days with as much meaningful activity as possible. I was mostly on the go, measuring the worth of each rotation of the sun by the number of my accomplishments. I judged the success of another year of life on how full my calendar had been. All of that changed with the coming of the pandemic and with it so too did my attitude.
Had the seventy first year of my life gone as planned I would have traveled to Scotland, heard Elton John in concert, celebrated my nephew’s wedding, enjoyed gatherings with friends and family, visited loved ones who are sick, delighted in my Sunday mornings at church. In other words busily filled every hour of every day. I would have no doubt been quite content for that is my nature, but my now more isolated life has brought me a new outlook that is magnificent. My calendar shows a series of blank time slots that belong only to me. I am free to take my mind wherever I wish it to be, to consider thoughts and ideas and to immerse myself in simplicity.
My home is my Walden and like Thoreau I have learned how to embrace the beauty of simplicity. I hear and see birds that I did not know lived together with me. I gaze at my cup of tea and feel its warmth on my hands. I am filled with it’s aroma. I do not have to gulp it down because I have an appointment to which I must drive. I am able to linger and enjoy the filling of my senses, to think on things. It is as though scales have been lifted from my eyes, wax pulled from my ears.
I read. I pray. I study. I write. I learn. None of it is forced. It is all pleasurable. I have time to take the threads of existence and find their connections, the places where they are woven together. I see what is important and what is not. I appreciate even the tiniest moments, the drawing of each breath, something of particular importance in times of Covid-19 and George Floyd.
My age has given me the ability to live in this quiet way. It has allowed me to savor my isolation in a manner that would not have been possible in my younger days when I had children to nurture, responsibilities to fulfill. Being seventy two has its perks even as it signals that I am walking towards conclusion rather than a beginning, and yet I feel as though I am indeed starting over again with a new perspective about my role in this world and how I should choose to live.
When the time comes for “normalcy” again I do not think that I will be the same person that I was only a few months ago. I do not wish to keep myself so busy running around that I lose the ability to quiet my mind enough to see and hear what is most important. I want to continue to feel the joy of contemplation.
As I approached my seventy second birthday I became free of the superficialities of society. I walk in my bare feet most of the time now. I feel the grass on my lawn, the smoothness of the wood inside my house. I no longer fret over my hair which has grown long and natural. I have had no manicures or pedicures and yet my hands and feet seem healthier looking than they have in many years. My face is unadorned by make up, revealing the lines and dark circles that are my natural state. Amazingly I am more content with my appearance than ever. It is of less and less consequence each day. I have a glow of confidence that is most surely coming from within.
I have heard the cries of the suffering and understood their needs in ways that once baffled me. I have found the ability to open my mind to ideas that were once perplexing. It has been a journey more exciting than all of the unfulfilled plans that I had made before I knew that everything would change so dramatically. It has made being seventy two feel like one of the most wonderful times of my life.
I do not know where the coming days and weeks and months will lead me and the rest of the world but I do know that I have learned how to be content with little more than the sound of the wind or the cooing of a dove. I have simplified, simplified, simplified and it has been glorious.