Bike Fail

“Find another way to keep fit,” said the podiatrist in uncharacteristically stern tones. Decades of walking had netted me two very unhappy feet. What to do? I needed time out in God’s nature and, never much good at sitting, had used the rhythm of my steps to focus my prayers.

I rummaged up warm memory from my youth: cycling home from the library with a basketful of books. Eureka! Calling in wifely and motherly chips 2016 Mother’s Day, I requested the gift of a bike. I loved her on sight: old-style frame, cream-colored paint, and stenciling that reminded me of ice cream parlors and The Music Man. I named her Cordelia.

Worry: would I remember how to balance after all these years? A surreptitious ride around the neighborhood allayed those fears: you really do never forget how to ride a bike! But an altogether different problem arose. The slopes that seemed gentle to my walking feet grew Everest-sized when I pedaled them. Breezes that mercifully cooled my walking skin buffeted my biking body with maniacal force. And, it turns out, you use different muscles bi-peding than you do bi-peddling. My quadriceps screamed, “What did we ever do to you?”

I finished the ride on willpower. I was clearly past it. Done for. Failure with a capital F.

But what of Cordelia? She was a gift of love and hope. I couldn’t give up on her. I painted my bike helmet like van Gogh’s Starry Night and, following the advice of the ages, got right back on the, um, bike.

Not great. Not disastrous.

Today I can ride longer before my legs turn into overcooked noodles. I can manage inclines with a bit more panache.  It’s not as easy as I’d like, but it’s worth the effort. Plus, I learned that failure, while harsh, has benefits. I learned

  1. Failure doesn’t kill us. Even though at the time our mortification might wish it did. In surviving failure, in a larger sense, we win.
  2. Failure defines our values. Sometimes we give something a go and failure tells us, in no uncertain terms, “Nope. Not for me.” Other times, when we face a challenge that’s hard, but somehow energizing (what I call God energy), failure spurs us on. We test unused muscles and set our determined chins.
  3. Failure fosters humor. We grow in self-acceptance when we can laugh at our humanness. Not in a derisive way, but in a way that says: “Yep. That’s me. Warts and all. Gotta love me.”
  4. Failure cultivates community. We all fail. Sharing that honestly helps us discover—and share—the refreshing truth that failure doesn’t define us.

Sure, it’s frustrating to re-tackle with determination (and Ben Gay) a skill I once mastered with nary a thought. But it’s frustration with benefits. I feel a kind of wondering joy as I wheel Cordelia out of the garage and slap on my helmet. There are adventures out there just waiting for me. I intend to pedal out and find them.

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Housing Grief

In our neighborhood sits a fire-gutted house. For months it sat, its yard weed ridden and rodent infected, its shattered windows like eyes into a dead soul. How long would it be left in that state? Why not just tear it down and rebuild?

Then in came the troops. First, the lawn was mown. Then, inside, fresh wood transformed the space from empty into potential. Outside, the crew built additions onto the existing structure. The house was, at its soul, what it had been, but also something new. A resurrection house.

The house reminds me that fires come. They destroy what has been. And we grieve. Grief takes the time it takes. Slowly, we’re opened to hope—not for what was, but for what might be. A resurrection. A soul house transformed.

This Eastertide season finds our family in loss. Last month, my husband’s job was outsourced. The life we’d known, the life we’d counted on, is gone. At 60+, we look out at the world through broken windows. Around us, as we wait and watch for what will be, we see resurrection. In nature. In the lives of others. In fire-gutted houses.

Whatever you are grieving, I hope for you clear evidence of resurrection. And with it, anticipation of fresh, new life.

Titans of Aging

6-nity

I had a recent health scare—or rather a couple of doctors had one on my behalf and I soon joined them. I’d come in for a prescription refill and found myself being counseled to have tests run. No symptoms: just a date passing in the year. I promised to follow up, but next business morning I received a call to set up a consult: that morning. Consult made, test scheduled. The earliest I could get in was two weeks hence.

I spent that fortnight wondering why flipping the odometer on my gage from 59 to 60 alarmed the medical profession so. It was as if I passed the witching hour on my last day as 59 and all the genetic Titans locked in Tartarus made a jail break and were running rampant through my body. My family history, not my symptomology, had elicited the concern.

And sure enough there they were: four little polyps just out of diapers. A biopsy scheduled. More waiting. I began living—well attempting to live—a bifurcated life. If all’s well, our nonprofit can be counted on for this and this. My children can depend on me for that and that. My husband and I can move into our thirty-fourth year of marriage with expectancy. If not? What can I be counted on for? Do I tell her? Him? To whom can I show my fear? Who do I protect?

In the end, my husband had to call for the results. The nurse apologized for the delay; their sick-people business was booming. But good news! All baby polyps were benign; we’d caught them before they grew up, formed a gang, and started vandalizing my system. In three years I go back in: same song, second verse.

I learned the news on my way to teach a class. I finished that and suddenly felt my weariness. I ached. I cried. My sinuses plugged up and my ears followed suit. I could attend now to the smaller discomforts of my body. I could taste food instead of forcing it down. I even slept through the night.

I’m grateful to the medical community for its vigilance. Not so much for the waiting. Will there be, in the coming years, more of these “hurry up and waits?” Will I get accustomed to bifurcated living? Will I find peace less a determined spiritual practice and more a natural state of mind? I have no idea. This I do know—facing the Titans of Aging takes courage, even if I face them with my teeth chattering and my eyes blinded with tears. And, for me at least, the courage comes, not as a token obtained by dropping coins in a prayer machine, but by praying in the sweat of terror—but praying all the same. And by considering the needs of those I love: determining who I want to be for them—if I live another couple of weeks or another couple of decades.

You hear me Titans? Game on.

Tinsel & Term Limits

6-nity

I’m a few weeks into this 6-nity business (living into my 6th decade with humor and dignity). And I have to say it’s no big deal. Recently a friend grew apoplectic over the prospect of turning 58. “Ain’t no big thing,” I told her. And meant it. Like a reverse Advent, the anticipation is far worse than the reality.

I wonder what all the fuss is about. Actually, I’m pretty sure I know: we’re a death denying society. That’s why we spread make-up and hair gel on death, then bundle it into expensive packages which allow us to delude ourselves into forgetting that what no longer breathes decomposes.

Older people remind us that our lives have term limits that are not of our choice.

Why else would we reduce older persons to a set of embarrassing, age-related symptoms, treat them as pets, or tuck them quietly away (out of sight…)? Such practices insult persons who have earned the gravitas of years. And it harms those who perpetrate such practices. Such souls are rendered shallow; nothing deep can take root there.

Personally, I refuse delivery of such practices. Instead, I seek to live every day God gives me: to do what I can to make the world a better place. I will work, I will laugh, I will hope, I will love. To celebrate every second my heart beats and my brain fires.

***

The other day I met a septuagenarian. He’d wrapped his walking cane in tinsel and twinkling holiday lights.

“I love your cane,” I said.

“Tis the season,” he smiled.

 You are my role model for the next decade, I decided.

6-nity

6-nity

Okay. Here goes. Last week my odometer moved from 59 to 60.

Gone are the days when I pronounced my 7- ¾-year status to anyone who would listen: when I divided the year into quarters in anticipation of the next milestone. Why the change?

It would seem I’ve moved from “deep in the action” to “yesterday’s news.” It’s hard to resist the message that aging is shameful. It must be or we’d feel no need for anti-aging creams, face lifts, or sitcoms stereotyping older people as addle-headed. Hilarious.

Thing is, I’m not yesterday’s news. So I will move deep into life with 6-nity: a dignity that accepts myself and my years. How? By

  1. Staying Thirsty: with so many books to read, concerts to attend, lectures to hear, and people of differing perceptions to know, I’d best get busy. I’ll stay thirsty, my friend.
  2. Contributing: My worry on my 60th birthday—Would the people I serve think I’m no longer up for the task? Instead, they celebrated my birthday with full and eager hearts. With so much need in the world and with so much to give, I’ll roll up my sleeves.
  3. Staying Fit: I spend more time these days caring for my body, but that attention allows me to do the things I really care about. I’ll exercise, eat prudently, get adequate rest, and take those pesky calcium pills.
  4. Keeping It Real: Aging isn’t for sissies. I wept all over my first pair of bifocals. Ditto with the trifocals. I can’t deny my need for serious visual aids. I’ll seek to see as clearly other truths about myself and my age. Delusions can make me blind in other, more destructive ways; I’ll keep a sharp eye.
  5. Laughing: It’s a balancing act—maintaining humor enough to avoid what Berk Breathed termed “offensensitivity” and maintaining enough self-respect to avoid casting myself as a buffoon. I’ll not take myself too seriously, but I’ll take myself seriously enough.
  6. Building Soul Muscle: My body has term limits, but my soul’s in it for eternity.I’ll maintain spiritual practices that muscle my soul for adventures to come.
  7. Loving: God, others, creation, self. In loving, I create a powerful good that far outdistances my physical life. Those capable of loving are deep in the action. I’ll keep on loving.

I will die. But right now I am alive & I will live 6-nity with humor, love, and dignity. I hope the same for you, whatever your age.

 

Pretty Woman

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Clad in a green windbreaker and white gimme cap, an octogenarian holds the door at the neighborhood McDonalds for his frail wife. She moves slowly, one foot carefully placed, then another. She is feeling the years. I stand behind, waiting, then make my exit, giving the couple room to maneuver.

As I walk past, I hear him tell her, “You were the prettiest woman in there.” Her responding laughter rings with joy. And hope.

Strolling to my car, I wished everyone had one someone to see them that way. That the deserving dad is believed by his kids to be the “Best Dad Ever.” Same for moms. That spouses and partners and friends and children know someone who sees them as the Mona Lisa, to quote Cole Porter. And I see no discrepancy here. Mr. Gimme Cap can believe his wife’s the prettiest woman in the room and the guy at the booth across the way can think the same thing about his girl. And she about him (unless he’d rather be the handsomest!).

I didn’t have any pictures of the Mona Lisa, so I chose these of my husband and me in our gym-toned bodies. He looks pretty good, huh?

Wishing you, each of you, someone who sees your uniqueness and who loves you for it.

Soul Muscle

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“She not about to change now.”

Such remarks assume that our souls wear down alongside our physical selves: that the uniqueness that is you and me develops age spots, wrinkles, and osteoporosis. I can see where folks get that idea; with aging, some people close in on themselves, growing brittle and bitter. But it need not be so. Indeed, with the children grown and a level of vocational competence achieved, we gain the freedom to tone our souls.

No matter what age we are, we’re just getting started—there’s much more to each of us than this suit of skin can contain.

Below are some fitness options for a good “soul workout.”

1. Be available to different opinions: read a book that professes an opposing worldview, or hang out with folks from that “other party.”

2. Tone our brains: take on a subject that’s always been a challenge, be it an online philosophy course (iTunes U offers some great courses) or a workbook on mathematics. Thanks to Rosetta Stone, I’m having moderate success learning Spanish.

3. Create: whether we tend a garden, write a poem, or decorate our workspace, creative process supplies restorative oxygen to our souls.

4. Serve: walking in another’s shoes and tending to another’s needs, keeps our souls & soles supple.

5. Practice prayer: Connecting with God our morning and evening pillow, as we work, on the highway (eyes open, please!) supplies needed electrolytes to our wearied soul muscles.

Whether we’ve eight or eighty, our souls are an infinitely renewable resource. Given regular exercise, they’ll grow heartier and more limber with age. What are your practices for toning soul muscle? I’d love to read them!