Muscle Tone

I passed a young woman in the market this afternoon.

Her skin was so evenly colored. Her muscles so toned.

I wanted to stop her and say:

“Your skin is so evenly colored and your muscles so toned!”

But she appeared to be in a rush.

“She’s decades younger than you,” my husband said, surely relieved that I shared my thoughts with him and not her, and thinking I needed encouragement.

But I wasn’t mourning my youth. In fact, there’s a very good chance that I am kinder to this skin that’s grown mottled and to this musculature that’s grown soft than this beauty is to perfection.

Someday (soon) the gentleness of age and the blush of youth will meet each other inside young women, like those waves that approach each other from opposite directions as they soften toward the shore.

We’ll look on the Aged then like one does a favorite book or sweater, more Beloved because it’s worn; and so Known, we will Love into ourselves–in all ways and shapes, infirmities and strengths and age–even more.

Not even summer…

Weeping Beech in spring

Songs about September already make me wince.
The red of the maple buds on the hillside catch in my chest.
It’s not even Solstice yet.
This must be what it is to grow old
To know the ending, inside
the beginning…
To feel the loss
embraced by the gift.

On Turning 55

Michael McGurk

If 50 was raising the timber frame; 55 was me climbing the timbers & tacking an evergreen branch to its peak. (That happened. There was no photo.)

“50 is the old age of youth,” it is said, “And the youth of old age.”

And it’s true. The fifties are all that.

Or is it just me?

I lost Lila at 55. She had more than a dozen grandbabies by then. But with time’s passing, it seems impossibly young to have been taken.

My older sister died last summer at 55 too and just a few years before her—my aunt.

My mother had 2 years on the 2 of them, alive until 57.

Which is to say—While the sun is shining, I’m making hay.

November, like me

A November day, like today, with its deep frost–prisms of light illuminating the cold–is a lot like me as I age, or who I aspire to be, say by 60 or 80–all the fruit, the desire, the harmony fallen away–so that what remains–the stone, the empty branch, the fading blade of grass–is immersed in this stark and exquisite offering–of clarity.

50+


Am I always surprised by the 50+ on the label?

My first thought this morning: I mistakenly purchased the wrong bottle of supplements.

And then I remember: Oh, right, that’s me.

Though apparently I reserve some measure of doubt.

For what?

Self-protection?
Denial?
A refusal to be aged out of society?

I suspect something more elemental–a wonder to have been oneself for so many years.

And now, alas, I can’t remember:

Have I taken the supplement or just marveled over my relationship to the label again?

Rehearsal for Dying

When all your desires are distilled
You will cast just two votes:
To love more.
And be happy.
~Hafiz

Last Minute Diaper Laundering, Casey Deane, 1995

I remember the morning childbirth took me by surprise. My water broke just before sunrise, and my contractions came on strong–5 minutes apart.  No turning back.

Obviously, I knew my time coming; but I wasn’t due for another 2 weeks; and I had expected my first to be late. I felt robbed of time. And it didn’t matter that the diapers weren’t laundered and the meals weren’t frozen and my young nephew was here for a visit. Time was up.

I imagine death appears in the same way.

Too early.

Before we’re ready.

Without reasonable negotiation.

When I think back on labor, I dread the work of dying, knowing that it can last days, months, even years.

“Maybe you’ll die in an instant,” my husband suggests.

I think about that, but I’m not sure that this would be any easier.

I remember the moment when I almost died that quickly. In London. My junior year abroad.

I decided to walk across the city up to Hampstead rather than take the Tube.

I tripped.

Into an intersection.

With oncoming traffic.

I saw the cars that would crush me.

I watched the motorcycle rushing toward my head.

I wasn’t afraid.

I was simply… aware.

When I got up, and dusted off my pants, and picked up my Walkman, I was stunned–by the miracle of life–and the immediacy of death.

My fist still clenched a Kit Kat.

I sometimes experience  illness–as a “rehearsal for dying”–but sometimes we don’t get a rehearsal. My grandmother didn’t.  She was in the breakdown lane with her 3 best friends when that sixteen-wheeler came upon them.

Now that I’m approaching 50, I’m beginning to sense that aging itself is a vehicle of preparation, with its constant dance of resistance and surrender…

Holding on.

Letting go.

“I don’t want this.”

“Fine!”

Though my body is clearly rocking its way toward ending, I can’t believe that “I’m” not forever. That my children aren’t. That this family which feels absolutely timeless isn’t. That the baby who took me by surprise is 17. That our days together are numbered–in yet another rehearsal for that final parting.

It always strikes me that flesh and blood and all the rich matter of emotion and story that makes up a life can be gone in a instant, while my mother’s zebra striped Emory board, which she probably picked up at the dollar store, is still around, a dozen years after her early death.

It’s those kind of thoughts which led me to the book, A Year To Live.

It’s not a book about dying.  It’s a book about living–as if we were dying–because of course we are.

From time to time, I place this book by my bedside, but the bookmark hasn’t moved very far in a decade.

I guess I prefer to live as if life is forever, as if bills and homework and calendars trump death.

As if I can wait for another day to live like I was dying.

As if this rehearsal  never ends.

Kelly Salasin, June 2012