Years ago, young enough to squat without pinching a knee joint, able enough to push a hand mower to clip grass without a hip complaint, flexible enough to kneel, stand, crouch, and repeat without hurting yet another body part, I sat weeding our front sidewalk. A stooped woman I deemed old, whom I now consider spry, limped toward me and said, “Dearie?”
I looked up at her wrinkled face, crinkly smile and devilish eyes, “hi.”
She patted my shoulder, “I see what you’re doing, sweetheart.”
I wondered what she saw me doing. She pointed her finger the way wise seniors do when they teach a lesson worth hearing. She nodded, “It’s all about maintenance, honey, everything is about maintenance.“
We laughed. She hobbled on, continuing her stroll around the neighborhood. At that time, I had two young children. I thought, I maintain order in the house, harmony—as best I could—between my daughter and son, tidiness in the yard, vigilance for my aging parents. Yet I did not know the depth of her words. Now I hear her truth. Maintenance expands at age 70, becomes more inclusive: the house, yes; kids, yes; now grandkids; my aching arthritic bones; thin blood that yearns for warmer climates; and maintaining emotional stability I never questioned in my happy 30s.
And through the holidays, how do we maintain a sense, in our mundane lives, of “I’m ok” when those had-a-magical-trip-to-Bali letters arrive in the mail? Hmm. My last year included a loved one’s autism diagnosis, a relative hospitalized three times, and the alcohol-related death of a friend’s adult son.
I do love the cheery my-grandson-won-a-national-archery-competition notes, the good tidings, the well-wishes, the great news, the connection to the senders. One I received today relates the Valedictorian success of a daughter recently accepted to Harvard. Yet I have kin who repeatedly got kicked out of school, schools. Of course, my year had triumphs too. But when the smiling-people letters appear, I wonder if I alone live the life Zorba the Greek called a full catastrophe, filled with whiplashes of joys and sorrows, births and deaths, gains and losses, thrills and boredom.
How about maintenance of our true selves? For example, I’ve always trusted my in-born joy. My high school friends dubbed me effervescent. I never questioned my vibrancy, never worked to maintain it. But during recent holidays I’ve had to re-route dawn’s angst with conscious tactics, “Uh, oh, negative thinking alert! No, Susan, do not go there.” As we age, we need more care to maintain what used to come naturally.
Do you know the expression, “do not compare your google searches to others’ Face Book posts”? Yesterday, in a dark mood, you drove to a bright library. In its lit space you googled generator companies since you’ve had no heat, TV, phone, electricity or internet for three days due to a power-outage. You plugged in your laptop and saw your best friend’s pictures of his warm dazzling home with his brilliant decorations, shining with thousands of lights inside and out. Or you google “how to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder,” and see a post of your niece’s sunny South-of-France destination holiday marriage bash, labeled “best wedding ever.”
Maybe to maintain our essential wholeness, we ought to remember the common truth of our get up, read the paper, stir the oatmeal, get winter tires on the car, take care of a dying elder, less-than-shiny, full catastrophe lives. Maybe to claim our own radiance, we ought not compare ourselves to one-sided eyes-all-aglow highlights.