Sunday, February 20, 2011

How old will you be tomorrow?*

Now that I’m fifty-four-and-a-half I’m starting to feel it, you know?

Younger, that is.

When it comes to aging, not all is equal. If my life were equal to my first husband’s, for example, I would be dead in another 191 days.

That’s sobering. In so many ways I feel I am still awakening to myself—how could all this be over any time soon? There is so much to see and learn and do. And READ!!

If my life were equal to my grandmother’s on the other hand, I’d have a leisurely 15,888 days remaining to accomplish all I’d like. (Excuse me—may I choose this option?) My grandmother traveled with my uncle to Europe in her eighties, and read many a book while rocking in front of the fireplace at our summer home in northern New York. When I project forward to think of myself at that age, I mix in a little Laura Ingalls Wilder so I can still be writing. Why not?—Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books were published while she was between 65 and 76 years of age.

My grandmother’s life was no picnic. Her physician husband worked long hours and died early, so she raised her four children largely on her own. A series of small strokes left her wheelchair bound and unable to speak for several of her final years. But I never sensed she had left us. She never had that frighteningly blank look I saw on so many faces in the nursing home where I once worked. Even when she couldn’t speak she looked as if she were listening, and wore a sweet smile. (She also smiled while rocking and reading—Harlequin romances.) Thanks to my ever-attentive uncle (pushing her wheelchair in the above picture, which was taken at my wedding to Ron), my grandmother always looked put together, wearing rouge and lipstick and a dress (never once in the thirty years I knew her did I ever see my grandmother wear trousers).

My grandmother died in her sleep on February 13, 1987, at the age of 97. It was a Friday the 13th, and the moon was full. I hope she'd understood when I told her I was pregnant—in a wonderful affirmation of the circle of life, my son Jackson, left, was born on her birthday that year.

So why bother thinking about this? I know I can't control the number of my days here on earth.

But I can allow the days of the people I’ve known to inspire the way I choose to live them.

As to the 191 days: To honor that, by the time I reach Ron’s “deadline,” I aim to finish my memoir. To put the story of that part of my life to rest at a time in my life that corresponds with his decision to end his life. It feels right.

As to the 15,888 days: If I am lucky enough to have a marathon of days still before me, I’d better get in shape. I’ve always been active, and at fifty could walk and run and swim farther than I could in my early twenties. Yet I had belly fat that just wouldn’t budge, putting me at risk for all sorts of physical maladies that could shorten my life, or worse, disable it.

Thanks to fitness tips from my younger brother, who’s a personal trainer, I’m finally losing that weight (more circle of life here: new science has supplanted the fat burning principles I learned in exercise physiology when I got my master’s degree in health and physical education in 1980). My arthritis bothers me less. I’m fitting into clothes I hadn’t worn in over a decade. And whose arms are these? In many ways I'm turning back the clock, and becoming my younger self. Any wisdom accrued is mine to keep.

*I borrowed my title question from the tagline of Lifespan Design Studio, an architecture firm which utilizes universal design to support the comfort and function of people of all ages and abilities in commercial and residential settings. It's run by my friends Doug and Ellen Gallow, who printed the question on the back of the tee-shirt advertising their business. (We've been friends a long time—Doug took this picture of my grandmother.) I guess when they read this they’ll know how I value the question on that tee-shirt. It adds a philosophical punch to my workouts.

So: How old will you be tomorrow?


Keith Schrader said...

The back of my red t-shirt says the same thing. I am 65 & 1/2 and I would like to make it to my grandmother's death age. If I do I will see 100 & 1/2 years. I need Doug & El to design a center in Flagstaff, Arizona real soon.
I love your blog.

Kathryn Craft said...

Guess you need to start fundraising for that center then, Keith! I love that tee-shirt. It reminds me that life needs to be nurtured. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Eve said...

My husband's grandmother is 96 years old. Most days she says she feels about 25 inside her head. On the outside her body isn't quite as co-operative as she'd like. I will soon be 61. I've been retired from my day job for about a year, and during that time I've written 2 1/2 novels. My painting has kept up with my writing. I'm hoping for more than 191 days, but either or, I really should decide what I want to paint and get at it.

Kathryn Craft said...

Eve: I actually read that there's a good reason for the phenomenon your husband's grandmother describes--that we still feel young inside while aging. In her book MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explains that while parts of the brain grow and change, the limbic system--also referred to as the reptilian brain or the emotional brain--does not mature. This non-maturing emotional brain is the source of knee-jerk reactions that can only be overridden by better responses learned through our cerebral cortex. And it is the reason that we "feel" the same age, so the mirror can continue to surprise us. Interesting, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

15,888 days sounds like the title of a great memoir...can you imagine how packed that would be of life, adventure, sorrow, mysteries, tragedy and joy? Your grandmother sounds like she was an amazing woman.

I will be 41 and love being exactly me right now...thinking my Mom was 41 when she adopted me and how I still feel connected to her even though she died a courageous battle with cancer 2 years ago...since then I've written 2 books. The time to shake hands with your dream is in the face of deep loss and the realism of death coming, someday, sometime, sooner or later. I want my dream sooner and death later.

Turning 30 was wonderful...height of my career, single, free, travelling...but after 40 life opens up into a wonderful blossom or peace, acceptance, wonder at all you can do if you try. I look forward to this decade and all I can achieve I never thought possible in following my dreams...I cant wait for 50.

If, as we get older we realize how little we know and how much more we have to learn - does that mean we get newer as we get older?

Kathryn, you are doing amazing things at your time in life, I can tell! And a role model for your other writer peers.

-Donna Galanti

Kathryn Craft said...

Donna: Sorry to hear about the loss of your mom. But I agree--when death sneaks up on you and grabs someone you love, it makes you much more aware of your true "deadline."

You mentioned 30 as a great milestone--that one freaked me out a bit, because I wanted children so badly, and had only achieved a few miscarriages by then. At 42, after two decades as an arts journalist, I began writing fiction--and hoped to have a book published by 50 (I suppose another comparison to miscarriages is apt here). Ah well, we can't control when we achieve these things, but the yearning makes the journey well worthwhile.

Thanks for reading, and commenting.