“I’m not here because of you,” I answered to yet another demand in my head. “No. I really don’t want to do that today.”
Look, I’m 70 years old, healthy, smart, and still looking out at life. During my life, I’ve lived through the Cold War, fights for civil rights and women’s rights, environmental concerns and fears, and wars in places I had never thought about, to name just a few upheavals.
What all that means is that I’ve spent a great deal of time preparing for or fighting for or just waiting for something to happen. I ducked and covered, fought the fights, eschewed phosphates in my soaps and dyes in my toilet paper, and protested against useless wars. And what did I get?
Well, I wasn’t dissolved by atom bombs (Whew!). I was proud that we had won greater civil and women’s rights. No phosphates gave me grimy clothes proudly worn. I lived in a country with a government that was strong enough to weather the protests and come out stronger. I felt good about raising children who saw me as a fighter for righteous causes and who joined me in some. I spun around once, clicked my heals, and…
Here we are, almost three generations later.
• We are still worrying about atomic and hydrogen (and worse) bombs and the lunatics who have them. It may well be that the unjust wars we fought to bring “democracy” to peoples whose lives are steeped in ancient beliefs, have spawned the international terrorism we cannot stop. The genie is out of the bottle!
• Civil and women’s rights are being eroded by men and women and religions, claiming they know better.
• The environmental concerns are turning out to be much worse than we imagined. It seems that the more we learn, the less we know, as science and superstition battle for our understanding.
• The current political scene is one I don’t recognize as anything remotely good for America.
Having dedicated myself to causes, fears, outrages, and children; and being proud that I did; I stand today wondering where and who I am. In the past 20+ years, I have found that I can survive well. I’ve moved from New Jersey to Georgia to Iowa to Oregon; I’ve had four executive jobs, run a bed and breakfast, dabbled in antiques, written a novel, and now am starting a small baking business. I’ve had friends say I’m amazing, one who says I’m his role-model; and a sister who thinks I don’t know what I’m doing just bouncing around aimlessly.
What this is, I’ve concluded, is the result of longer looking out. Without really knowing it, I’ve been looking inside myself to find the strength and will to move along with confidence to do what makes me whole and happy.
I return to my early morning thought: “I’m not here because of you.” I don’t depend upon anyone to live, nor do I exist at the will of anyone else. Let me explain.
All my life, I thought that aging meant increasing dependence…on children and other relatives, on spouses and friends. To some extent that’s true. I don’t like to think of it as “dependence” because that has a cost. Now, this will sound selfish, but the cost is being available to everyone else. The cost is me, and how I am defined. I’ve always been a giver and helper, so that’s not going to change.
But it’s going to diminish. In the time I have left here, I intend to stay healthy and independent, to keep creating things that satisfy and excite me, to be a person others want to be near and to enjoy.
I don’t want to be the mother whose son sighs about before answering his phone. I don’t want to talk to friends and relatives by appointment or obligation but because we genuinely care about each other. I don’t want to be that person whose conversations are mostly rants. I don’t want to be someone whom people cross the street to avoid.
A week in Maine studying birds and nature helped me find myself.
I want to embrace the me I’ve spent 70 years nurturing, a whole person with more stories to tell. And, with a grateful nod to Robert Frost, “miles to go before I sleep.”