Archives for category: Growing Older

Have you been neglecting something important about who you are? If so, this post is a nudge to bring it back into the light.

A few days ago I picked up my guitar. Abandoned in a corner for far too long, it has been with me since 1960. The years of use have chipped its finish but its action is still smooth, its sound resonant. It embodies the gift of music that our parents passed on to my sister and me.

Our family’s means were lower middle modest, but there was always music. A post-war memory still holds my parents dancing to jazz and swing on the radio. I sang in the church choir, the school chorus and the high school’s annual musical. My adolescence accompanied the birth and rise of rock & roll, and I love to dance.

It began when I bought a plastic ukulele for 25 cents (!) and learned to play and sing a pretty good rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. It got my parents’ attention. I came home from school one day to discover a Guild guitar on my bed. Knowing our limited resources, that gift meant mounds of affirmation.

I learned to play. There was plenty to emulate with the popularization of folk music in the ‘60s. I sang at family gatherings and hootenannies and to a special girl. In seminary, I wrote and recorded a folk mass that engaged congregations more actively in worship.

Best of all, the genes have made their way to our children and granddaughter, each of whom enjoys music and dance in their lives too. And so, I return to my guitar and the songs of my soul.

What is one of your neglected gifts? Is it time for you to sing that song again too?

 

I am spending time these days sorting through stuff. What to keep and what to release? It is a worthy task for any decade but even more so in our later years.

The accumulation of what we once thought important enough to lug around collides with the knowledge of the way life turned out. Fewer “rainy days” remain, and what is wanted now, much less needed, may not be what we saved long ago.

As a “Jack” of many trades I have collected much: shelves of books; files of weddings, sermons and eulogies from days of ministry; course syllabi and curricula from teaching; plans, proposals and publications from leadership roles; speeches and correspondence.

To be honest, in addition to easing the load on those who must deal with this stuff when I depart, the sorting provides an opportunity to revisit the story I tell myself. Wouldn’t most of us want to emphasize the times when our better angels prevailed?

Then there are the forgotten jewels. During an unsettling transition in my twenties I bought a pricey camera to explore an interest in photography. Two of the boxes I am culling contain slides, negatives, and photos that I developed and printed from that period.

There are family members, friends and landscapes; moments of play and laughter, music and fellowship – images of my life frozen, preserved and now re-presented to delight and refresh an aging memory.

Each still-life frames a gift with which I am blessed – loving relationships, connections to the earth, a quest for meaning and opportunities for service. These treasures reinforce the core values of my story and justify the effort to lug this stuff around all these years.

And you? What is the weight of stuff you carry? Is it a burden or a boon?

 

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One of the blessings of this week was a phone call with an old friend, a colleague from years ago. We caught up on each other’s lives, acknowledged the work we had done together and recognized that our connections of the heart cultivated long ago persist.

Each of us travels through life with cohorts. Circumstance brings us together but it is our choices and actions within those situations (or afterward) that create and sustain friendships.

Last weekend Peggy and I visited a college classmate and his partner. They surprised us with tickets to a Paul Stookey concert. Still writing songs at 78 and protesting the ascendance of our human failings, Stookey’s humor, insight and compassion seen in his days with Peter, Paul and Mary, triggered a chain of reflections that landed on this blog with a song from the same era.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends captures the wistfulness of this stage of life for me. Sung in their youth the lyrics anticipated a poignant marker: “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be seventy.”

Old friends come in two categories that sometimes coincide: the length of time we have known each other and the experiences shared; or the depth of the connection, like old souls who journeyed together in past lives.

Take a moment to enjoy the song and bring to mind your own friends. If you haven’t talked with them lately, it may be time to reach out.

Old friends. Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear.

Time it was, and what a time it was.

It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph…

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

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When the world of humans saps our sensibilities and we seek to escape the media’s gravitational pull, Peggy and I often turn to nature. This past week we sought a favorite cove on the Maine coast to reconnect with family and friends and to replenish our spirits.

A long open porch offers an expansive view of the bay in front of us. Throughout the day it beckons, hosting individual moments of solitude, quiet sharing with another, spirited ripostes when our numbers swell and of course the repartee and laughter of our meals.

Less than a hundred yards from the porch a sun bleached branch of a long dead tree looms over the cove, offering the perfect hunting perch for the local ospreys. The porch provides a protected but open view from which we track their coming and going, welcome their distinctive cry and marvel at their tutelage of their young. While we have seen it many times, their dive for the mackerel below followed by a telltale splash remains a basic thrill to witness.

This year the routines of the ospreys are disrupted by the arrival of two bald eagles who quickly establish their dominance over the perch and the fishing grounds below. While the ospreys percuss they reluctantly yield to their more powerful cousins.

The proximity of the eagles strikes a deeper chord of wonder, mystery and admiration. It’s easy to see how humans adopt them as symbols, hoping to appropriate even in small measure the strength and independence of these magnificent birds.

The eagles pay us little heed. And why should they? The question arises, who is the visitor here? My struggle for answers brings me full circle to the impulse that brought us back to the cove. Who is the visitor here?

 

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The tendency is to turn outward – for validation, for reprisal or simply to vent. I guess it is a natural default for most of us. Expressing our happiness, affection, anger or fear affirms that we are not alone. We belong to a larger community that shares our history, values, perceptions or temperaments.

The physical and emotional violence on display around the globe each day can be overwhelming. Add to that cauldron the personal challenges each of us faces with our relationships, livelihood and health. Where do we turn for grounding?

A reading I came across recently suggests that an important part of the answer has to do with turning inward. It is a translation of words from Lao Tzu from centuries past found in M. J. Ryan’s collection, A Grateful Heart. I offer it as a reminder that focusing on calming our inner turmoil may be a first step in bringing our peace to the world outside.

Always we hope

someone else has the answer.

Some other place will be better,

some other time it will all turn out.

 

This is it.

No one else has the answer.

No other place will be better,

and it has already turned out.

 

At the center of your being you have the answer;

You know who you are and you know what you want.

 

There is no need

to run outside

for better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

 

Rather abide

at the center of your being;

For the more you leave it

the less you learn.

 

Search your heart

and see

the way to do

is to be.

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I have returned home from a week in Colorado filled with friends, clients and family. The blessing of these relationships brought to mind a line from Carly Simon’s song –  these are the good old days.

How easy it is to spend time looking back to what our life used to be or anticipating what might lie ahead. Given my age, I confess to a certain amount of dread for what the coming years will bring.

This focus has been fueled in part by Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal which I have read in preparation for an upcoming discussion with friends from high school days. Written by a doctor, it is a frank account of the aging process and death and ways we and our culture deal with both.

In Still Here, a book by Ram Dass completed after he experienced a debilitating stroke, I found a gentle reminder that has bolstered my spirits and resolve to be here now.

As the Tibetan teaching instructs, we learn not to “invite” the future into our thoughts before its time, or to cause ourselves unnecessary discomfort, for just as the past traps us in memories, the future traps us in anticipation.

 In the popular idiom of days gone Carly Simon’s classic sums it up well.

We can never know about the days to come

But we think about them anyway

And I wonder if I’m really with you now

Or just chasin’ after some finer day

 Anticipation, anticipation is makin’ me late, is keepin’ me waitin’…

And tomorrow we might not be together

I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways

So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now

And stay right here

‘cause these are the good old days.

 

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The temperature reached 60 yesterday cutting short the maple sugaring season. The snow retreats before the ascending sun. The earth reappears. It’s early yet – no doubt there will be more “weather” this month – but the days pronounce spring’s imminent arrival.

The return of spring renews the promise that below the surface of an apparently frozen landscape life’s energy continues to create its abundance. There is the assurance that we will surface from our winters of disappointment or arrested expectation. We are meant to be where we are – on track to resume our growth into the fullness of who we are becoming.

For me spring’s arrival is accompanied by the music of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring and the Shaker hymn on which it is based. Stretching from Maine to Georgia the Appalachians have provided the backbone for my life’s journey. On its shoulders Peggy and I have worked and played and launched our family. Its hills have schooled us in the lessons of self-sufficiency, community and interdependence. Now in our later years we return home to its gentle slopes and their essential truths.

For your meditation today I suggest you listen to Copeland’s composition reflecting on the return of spring in your own life and the message of the Shaker hymn.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.

‘Tis the gift to come round where we ought to be.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

 

When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.

To turn, turn, will be our delight

Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

 

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At our monthly men’s group meeting this week one of our members remarked how quickly time is passing. Now in his sandwich years his life overflows with the joys and duties of spouse, father and son. Like many he struggles to balance all of this with grace, while at the same time responding to the nagging tug that wonders if there is something more to satisfy his soul’s longing.

More than twenty years his senior, I smiled to myself, having traversed much of the ground that lies before him – not that his journey will be similar to mine, but that he will continue to formulate his answers to the questions that life brings to each of us. For me the focus is the closing window of time remaining and the fear that it will slip away unattended.

I continue to ask myself two questions. Am I doing my soul’s work? Am I doing it with the people who love, challenge and encourage me? My joy and blessing is that I am able to answer YES to both questions.

Do you answer YES? If not, an opportunity invites you to take the first step now to move toward your YES.

As my friend spoke, the refrain of a favorite song visited me with its lyrical counsel about time, fear and friendship. It is Sandy Denny’s signature song also covered by Judy Collins.

And I am not alone, while my love is near me. 

I know it will be so until it’s time to go.

So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again

I have no fear of time.

For who know where time goes?

Who knows where the time goes?

 

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My paternal grandmother was a weaver. Her loom was a large, intricate contraption that filled half the room. As a youngster in wonder I watched her hands throw the shuttle back and forth and her feet press pedals that squeaked mysterious parts into place.

Nearby was another enigma to this child, a wooden wheel she used to spin wool into threads that her loom transformed into cloth. Most treasured was the clan tartan she wove for ties for her grandsons and skirts for her granddaughters.

As did many crafts born of the necessity to provide one’s own food, shelter and clothing, weaving yielded to impatience with the pace of production and the progress of technology. Still, the power of its metaphor remains a guide for the spirit.

In this prayer from sisters Pat Kozak and Janet Schaffran we are both weavers and woven.

Weave for us the tapestry on which our lives are stretched. Give us patience with the endless back and forth of shuttle, hand and effort. We look too closely, seeing only strands and knots and snarled threads of too-much-trying or none-at-all.

Grant us to see the whole of which we are a part.

In the end, we ask for gentleness with ourselves, acceptance of our less than perfect ways. We pray that what we do and what you weave form patterns clear to all, of mercy in the warp of it and love throughout.

My grandmother’s loom remains in the same house that is now her town’s historical society. Her spinning wheel graces the landing on the stairs of our home in NH. As I pass it daily I am reminded that the task of each of us is to create and stretch the fabric of our life in our generation.

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For those of us with more years in the rear view mirror than on the road ahead time takes on greater importance as a teacher. The lesson is “there is only now.” It’s a message that younger folks can opt into as well, although it is easier to embrace in our later years.

First, a disclaimer: by “only now” I do not mean living merely for the moment without caring about the impact of our behavior on ourselves and others. That is an indulgent prescription for hurt and harm.

My point is that most of us spend too much time reliving the past, even when part of us knows that it can’t be redone. Or, we fast forward to a fanciful future as an anesthetic for our stress. Much is going on in what we call now. Recognizing it and integrating it can alter not only the instant but the trajectory of the day.

My work with horses has reinforced this. They are fully present, reading and responding to the energy of the moment. Their survival depends on it.

As you read this, what thoughts are surfacing? What do you feel going on inside? Why is that? Paying attention to now may be providing a decision point for transforming your day. If not, whether intentionally or mindlessly, the moment has passed and with it the possibility of insight and a new beginning.

When we are with another person, are we truly present? What message is she communicating? What feelings does he express? What does her sharing surface in us? Are we truly hearing him, or are we focused on fashioning a snappy reply?

When we pay attention, each now opens a new world of possibility.