At the age of seventy-five I am, literally, moving. Breaking down my long life into boxes labeled “go”, “stay”, and “maybe” has been wrenching both physically and emotionally. I’m leaving the area where I’ve lived since 1967, and all that entails. Like a camel, I have carried the belongings of my mother, my children, and the home I made with their father for over thirty years. After my marriage ended, I moved from that 3500 sq. ft. house to a 2000 sq. ft. townhome where I re-invented myself. Now my partner and I are whittling down our possessions as we create an 1100 sq. ft. oasis in Jacksonville. As I work, I am keeping in mind the wonderful words of the underground philosopher Janis Joplin.
Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.
It is time that I created the life I want for the rest of my life. Nothing is needed but the imagination. I am shedding these old belongings—including passing along the 1960s outdoor Christmas lights that lit the roof of the brick Tudor in Tampa where our family lived. I gave my son a box I’ve kept for forty years that holds the Little League baseball uniform of his brother who died at the age of eleven. Also in that box is a baseball signed by his team, coaches and parents as they dedicated the field on Davis Island to Michael Tappouni. I am leaving the resting place of my son, but my passionate belief is that his energy is with me wherever I travel. And certainly my memories accompany me, fully present. In Jacksonville a new life begins, including a relocation of our counseling business into the building of my daughter’s business. The overflowing boxes of books, manuscripts and workshop materials have their own home now.
In the midst of the “do I need this?’ purging, a beautiful gift appeared. A young family from Houston arrived nearby after the flood with nothing but their microwave, which was too high to be drowned by the rising water. They have absolutely nothing but the most important thing—their lives. They are so grateful to receive the parts of our ending we can no longer carry that will make them a new beginning. The beauty of their love and gratitude lifts us and helps us move forward.
My heart breaks for those who feel their age restricts their life. As long as we have imagination and passion within, we are ‘no age’. Keats wrote in a letter to R. Woodhouse in 1818:
I feel assured I should write from the mere fondness and yearning I have for the beautiful, even if my night’s labours should be burnt every morning and no eye ever shine on them.
Keats is right. He was only twenty-three when he wrote this but he touched on the core truth of living and aging. You do what is right for you, not for praise, but because you must. It is not for the eye of another but for the heart of oneself that we create a life. It is an art.
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
Dr. Seuss, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”
The beauty of the world awakens to our imagination, even if we are confined to bed or in a wheel chair. We are alive in every sense, no matter our age, if we remain fully awake in our vision. The dreadful disease of Alzheimer’s robs some of us of this gift. So much of aging is a mystery. The way that those with dementia respond to music is miraculous. What memories and scenarios do those notes build in their imaginations?
We are looking ahead to life in the midst of my three daughters and their two mates in a world they have built to sustain their communities. Not only do they welcome us, but have been encouraging this move for a long time. We will miss my son, daughter-in-law and grandsons here, but one grandson has already migrated to Jacksonville and the others will only be a few hours south. We are ready for, and imagine, the new path and people coming into our lives. I’m curious about who I will become on this new creative journey. One thing I will not leave behind is my passion for life, family and work. But I believe, as John O’Donohue says in his glorious book Beauty:
The imagination has no patience with repetition. The old clichés of explanation and meaning are unmasked and their trite transparency no longer offers shelter. We become interested in what might be rather than what has always been. Experimentation, adventure and innovation lure us towards new horizons. What we never thought possible now becomes an urgent and exciting pathway.
I will follow my heart, my instincts and my core values and a beautiful life will form its next chapter, straight from my imaginings. At seventy-five a new bend has appeared on the long road of my life. The light flows softly ahead of my footsteps. I am ready to find what awaits me on the road taken. Stay tuned!