Paul L. Caron

Sunday, March 17, 2024

WaPo Op-Ed: The Two Best Gifts Of Aging? Softness And Illumination.

Washington Post Op-Ed:  All That Is True About Aging Is Illuminated on a Walk, by Anne Lamott (Author, Somehow: Thoughts on Love (2024)):

Somehow 2I was out today in the early morning walking with a close friend of 64 years named Shelley Adams. Despite some huge losses over time, she is always overtly positive. I don’t normally like this in a person. I make a rare exception for her. We hike several times a week beside our local creek, now a twisting, flowing stream that rushes over rocks, mint and twigs.

Rainer Maria Rilke was only partially right when he wrote that “life holds you in its hands and will not let you fall,” because both Shelley and I, like all older people, have been dropped. But life also at some point pulls you back to your feet. What do you do in between, during times of loss or general dread? My friend Tom Weston, a Jesuit priest, always reminds me, “We do what’s possible.” I hate that.

Okay, fine: What is possible? The practical, simple and kind. We work, love and help others as best we can, gawk at nature, rest. Is that it? Pretty much.

This is a little disappointing, but age teaches us that kind, simple and practical are enough, even in the face of the worst things we’ve lived through: suicides, mental illness, odious leaders, sudden death. My friend Don was called one day by an aging and suicidal friend. His friend asked, “What is the point of it all?” After a moment, Don replied gently, “Mornings are nice.” And, wildly, it was enough. His friend improved.

I cannot hike the uphill trails here anymore because of my hip, so we do what’s possible: take four 10-minute laps back and forth along the creek. Everything that is true about aging appears to me on these walks. ...

Because we go back so far, Shelley and I know each other’s souls and shadows, and each other’s major screw-ups, and there is comfort in this. Also, we have made mistakes with each other that have felt like betrayals. This happens in families. We have gotten so mad that we have ditched each other on the trail and shouted to each other’s back, “Don’t you dare walk away from me.” Actually, that was only me. We take breaks, make up. ...

My hip has really begun to ache by the final lap. We talk and limp along. Easily half of the people in our conversations have passed on, all four parents, both of her younger siblings, dearest friends. We know that death won’t be so hard. We’ve seen many people through the end of life. It’s never dramatic, like Snagglepuss staggering around onstage clutching his throat. It can be rough, and then one slips over gently to whatever awaits. My old pastor told me it is like going to bed on the living room floor and waking up in your own bed.

Age is giving me the two best gifts: softness and illumination. It would have been nice if whoever is in charge of such things doled them out in our younger years, but that’s not how it works. Age ferries them across the water, and they will bring us through whatever comes.

Other op-eds by Anne Lamott:

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