Finding Quiet in the 'Aging Thing'
Stepping away from the hustle and bustle of daily life has new appeal
With the arrival of warmer weather, I've embraced a new daily ritual. In the early evening after getting down on the floor to play ball with my dog (a year-round essential), I pour a glass of wine and step out onto my patio, which overlooks a dense patch of forest. For the next hour, I sit and sip and sink into the stillness.
Sometimes, I use this quiet time to reflect on what I think of as "the aging thing." With my 68th birthday fast approaching, I find myself drawing unscientific comparisons between me and my great-grandmother, grandmothers and mother at this age.
I've grown more aware of the aging thing. Nothing dramatic or worrisome. But insistent and unignorable, nevertheless.
Unlike any of them, I can still hold a plank and press down into a split (although not as deep a split as my mother's octogenarian yoga teacher used to manage). I can still walk five, six miles at a brisk pace without getting winded (though somewhere along the trail, two, three miles has become the preferred distance). I can still get by without having to tease my hair to cover bald spots (though trying to hide the thinning is a losing battle).
In Short, Doing Fine
I am, in short, doing fine. Come my birthday, I'll be able to enjoy a celebratory dinner with my husband and my daughter (how lucky am I that she lives nearby!) and extinguish the candles without risk of fainting from over-exertion.
Still, there's no denying that since my last birthday, I've grown more aware of the aging thing. Nothing dramatic or worrisome. But insistent and unignorable, nevertheless.
There's the moment I take each morning when I get out of bed, hand pressed to dresser, to make sure my balance is steady. The multiple runs to the bathroom before I head out because my bladder capacity has shrunk to the size of a pea. The need to get up from my office chair or car seat every hour or so to stretch my hips. The tossing and turning most nights to navigate around the arthritic discomfort in my hands.
More pronounced, there's the sense of my world shrinking as, one by one, loved ones have disappeared from my life. My first husband from leukemia. My sister from colon cancer. My mother from liver failure. My father from sepsis. My stepson from pancreatic cancer. Since my older brother's death from a stroke in January, my younger brother and I have felt a keen need to spend more time together. How can this be, we say to each other. Once we were a boisterous family of six. Now, we are two.
More Mindful of Friends
As the daily phone calls and routine visits with loved ones have diminished, the ensuing quiet has prompted me to strengthen old connections and forge new ones. I've grown closer to both of my sisters-in-law. Reached out more frequently to my far-flung nieces and nephews. Been more mindful of how deeply I treasure my friends.
Once we were a boisterous family of six. Now, we are two.
While my appetite for water cooler chatter has evaporated in the nine years since I retired from office-based magazine work, my need for human contact remains strong. As I've worked from home by phone, by computer, by Zoom, I've counterbalanced so much alone time by leaning into something I steered wide of earlier in my adult life: groups. I've joined a Pilates studio that offers group classes. Signed onto meditation, writing and book groups. Taken up pickleball. Nailed down more lunch and dinner gatherings.
A Hunger for Quiet
It's all stimulating. It's all delightful. It's all well-calibrated to hold the line on the aging thing.
And yet. More and more, I find that as an encounter nears the two-hour mark, I'm ready to head home. It's not that I've tired of the company or feel physically drained. It's that after so much conversation, I hunger for quiet.
I don't mean the deliberate quiet of, say, writing, where focused absorption makes time vanish. I mean the unscheduled quiet time that opens up because there's neither a desire nor a sense of urgency to fill it. It's time that insists my eyes need a break from so much reading, my ears from so much listening, my body from so much doing.
Increasingly, I have the sense that, if properly nurtured, my growing affinity for quiet will be a great ally in the years ahead as I navigate the aging thing. Already, I find myself skipping a meeting here, declining an invitation there. Instead of trying to step wide of the stillness, I find myself more inclined to step into it.
Or to sit down in it. Wineglass in hand, I watch the leaves of a kwanzan cherry tree rustle. I listen to the dogs bark, the geese honk, the birds sing. Above, blue jays antically chase each other through the tree branches; below, deer graze gracefully without turf conflict. Recently, I spotted a wobbly fawn awkwardly trying to coordinate its four skinny limbs to take its first steps.
As remarkable as I find Nature's gifts, what stirs my sense of wonder even more is that I can just sit there on my patio, without agenda, without purpose, without self-judgment, and reap so much pleasure from doing nothing. This is an upside to the aging thing that I'd neither anticipated nor gone looking for. I'm ever so glad it has found me.