To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.
~ Henri Frederic Amiel
I have struggled for some time with how to start this new blog - and then I came upon this quote, and like all the quotes that have spoken to me over several decades, this captured my thinking more concisely than all my attempts to date in my head or on paper. Learning how to age successfully, with dignity, with grace and with wisdom has become the work I have been looking for since retiring, without knowing I was looking for it. And this blog is an element of that work.
A good quote also reminds me of what I already know. I know that work is valuable, and that important, passionate work provides meaning and purpose to my life. I've known it for a long time. I just forgot it for awhile.
In my mid-30's, struggling after a divorce, lamenting that I would never be happy again, in constant distress because I had never lived alone and convinced that I would have to the rest of my life, a friend took pity on me (or just grew tired of my drama) and arranged for me to have dinner with a woman he knew and believed to be living successfully on her own. I don't remember her name, never saw her again after that dinner that she was so kind to prepare for me. But I do remember what she said that evening.
To live successfully on one's own, she said, you have to have three things, think of it like a three legged stool: work that you believe in and are at least enthusiastic about, or better yet, passionate about, avocations that engage your mind and perhaps your hands, and friends of the same sex. At that time, I had two of the three. I was teaching elementary students and loved it. I had several strong, supportive female friends. but I had no hobbies. So I went in search of one, and after much experimentation, landed on needlepoint and proceeded to stitch up a storm - must have created a dozen needlepoint pillows. And settled into a comfortable, satisfying single life.
For several decades after, I sat comfortably on that stool. After remarriage, I created a training/coaching company that provided great satisfaction for 25 years, I developed female friendships across the country, I developed other hobbies. Then I retired - and without realizing it, knocked out one of the three legs of the stool upon which I had rested so well for over 30 years.
On moving to St. George, I set out to find activities that would occupy my time and make use of my experiences and expertise, a common practice among retirees, I've discovered. I became a docent at the Art Museum taking 4th and 5th graders on art tours; I joined two book clubs, took continuing education courses, joined organizations, even becoming an officer on two boards. In retrospect,(what's that other quote, "Hindsight is 20/20"?), I approached this search as I had the search for an avocation. Experimenting, checking out solutions that seemed to work for others. This go round, however, I remained somewhat disconcerted, knowing that, though I found many of these activities enjoyable, something important remained missing.
Then, a moment of synchronicity - a few months ago, my brother recommended two books he had enjoyed, books about aging - Travels with Epicurus and Rules for Old Men Waiting. Moved by both, I began to pay attention to my mounting irritation with the incessant anti-aging commercials, noticed how frequently my contemporaries expressed concerns over memory lapses or the onset of yet another physical ailment or decline, observed my melancholy as one by one the celebrities of my youth passed away, and filled the pages of my personal journal with my observations and a growing list of questions that began to arise about this process called aging.
Questions that sent me off into memoirs and journals, classic tomes on aging, websites and blogs and - quotes, and among them the Amiel quote. Here was the work, the missing leg of the stool, learning how to age with dignity, grace, and wisdom . Here was work that would require research and creativity, trial and error, effort and thought, and learning with and from others. Here was work that might be a contribution to others. Everything that was satisfying and worthwhile about work in the past.
In the weeks and months ahead, I'll share resources, questions, observations, the stops I'm making along the way. My hope - to contribute to a different way of thinking about aging, to learn from and with others how to do more than cope with the very real challenges I know aging can bring, but also to use the opportunities and blessings this stage in life can offer. Not either/or but both.