Great Aunt Beulah said, “People think old folks like me are daft and feeble.” Then she decapitated a chicken.
Her words stuck with me; and since my retirement, I’ve realized their truth. When I attend meetings like those I used to facilitate, the other participants allow me to sit in silence and look wise. On crowded buses, parents tell their children to stand up and “offer that lady your seat.” Teenagers with spiked hair hold doors until I totter through.
When I took a bowling class, fresh-faced classmates offered one another advice: “Start your release sooner,” or, “ Move a couple of boards left.” Their feedback to me was “Nice try” and a vacated seat so I could catch my breath after rolling two gutter balls. When I walk with younger family members, motorists who stop for directions address their questions to those with unlined brows, as though my wrinkles mean I no longer recognize my neighborhood.
I notice these age-based reactions without letting them disturb my peace of mind or nap. I do, however, worry that I expect less of myself. During the years I worked as a consultant to small school districts in northwest Colorado, I drove alone through the darkness of winter on narrow, two-lane roads curving along rivers and through ranch lands. I maneuvered steep passes buttressed by frozen waves of snow, made lonely by the absence of homes and fellow travelers. I sang with the radio as sparse snow thickened and fell with increased determination.
Now I hesitate to drive three miles in full daylight if a skiff of snow is blowing across the highway.
I used to anticipate the challenge of walking into a workshop filled with seventy-five professionals sizing up the stranger who would instruct them. I liked convincing skeptics I had content knowledge, could make training meaningful and was serious when I said we would keep the break to fifteen minutes.
Now when a friend asks for volunteers to tell stories of the past to first graders, I avoid eye contact.
In my personal life, I thought nothing of cleaning bathrooms while doing laundry, scrubbing floors while making a shopping list, re-potting houseplants while calling my sister, cooking dinner while preparing to party.
Now I feel unduly burdened by one such task, and it takes most of a day to prepare for an evening out — there are so many more problems to disguise.
I used to fuss about my growing reluctance to engage, to rush from task to task, to agree to do things I don’t want to do. But I slowly realized it is permissible to do things I enjoy, not those others expect. It’s O.K. to relax into the rhythms of the life I have rather than trying to maintain the cadences of my younger self.
Living more slowly allows me to recognize my growing need for simplicity: a cluster on the back fence of sweet peas I grew from seed give me more happiness than watching the latest hit movie. As autumn advances, sharing a homemade meal of soup and bread with Joel pleases me more than dining in a restaurant, and sitting in the backyard surrounded by chickadees doing their flighty thing while I read or write seems more satisfying than a trip abroad.
Simple things refresh me, soothe me, fill me with wonder because I now have the time and wisdom to notice them.