It’s a little odd thinking that my last post of 2021 was about how much music can mean to our lives – particularly recalling how my Mom loved the songs of Frank Sinatra – and that my thoughts this week seem to be resonating with one of his songs. Like many around the world, the last two weeks of our lives have been filled with celebrations of meaning – and the beginning of a new year, with all the reflections and projections that come with the perspective of “out with the old, in with the new”. It is, naturally, not that simple – but it sounds comforting.
For some, “Fast away the old year passes” couldn’t be fast enough for 2021. I don’t see it as much referenced “nowadays”, but it used to be common in advertising to have “baby new year” and “father time” marking the occasion. Of course, thankfully, we do not age that quickly, moving from infancy to “old age” in the course of just 365 days – it creeps up on us, until one day we see gray hairs (or no hair – or hair where we don’t want it!) and wrinkles, and perhaps wince at the sight. Next week, my husband has a milestone birthday – 75; and shortly after that, I will be the age where the Beatles asked “Will you still love me when …”. To many, that makes us both old geezers – neither of us is ready to embrace that title, just yet.
But I have been thinking lately about just what is the truest sign of old age – and I think perhaps I have found the key, for my purposes at least. Having just last month reconnected with a fellow elementary through high school classmate, and reflected on our lives paths and the unexpected turns they took in the 60 years since, remembering the final years of my parents as their health declined, and being very much aware that it is just 3 years ago my own life was put at risk by a parasite, hospitalization and ongoing seemingly never complete recovery – I realize that as the years add up, the wrinkles deepen, and other effects of aging compete for my denial – no future is guaranteed. No tomorrow is promised, but the hope will not be set aside that many years of joy, discoveries, love, growth and exploration lie ahead. Yet there is one indicator of aging that I hope to avoid, and that we can take action on every day – not to defer the passage of time, but to ensure that the days ahead, and today, have as much meaning as those remembered – and maybe more.
The surest sign of aging is …… letting your world shrink.
I see it in my life, especially since moving, and then retiring early – my world is at risk of growing smaller. Not so small yet that it is like the room my mother spent the last 8 years of her life sharing with another care patient; not as small as the houses and apartments where some spend their days living online, or watching “reality shows” without a word shared with a fellow human being, perhaps for days at a time. COVID has accelerated that “shrinkage” in some ways, unavoidably to a degree – but it takes effort to fight. To reach out to those we cannot touch, still, even though silence may be the only response; to force ourselves to meet new faces, move past social insecurities to speak to a stranger and share a smile, or a kind word; and especially, to dream and then ACT on those dreams, even though some may say your time has passed.
Many years ago, I sat in the California Theater in San Bernardino – I was probably around 40 or 45 at the time – to see a silent movie. My own father and grandparents had watched movies there decades prior, and on this occasion, the theater organ was going to be played by, essentially, a very old man. In a way, I was already older then, compared to now – my world was small, I remained trapped in thinking in ways that kept me alone, closeted, and lonely – but movies had always been a window out of the darkness into a world of adventure, and this was a chance to revisit a moment in time. The organist was a gentleman by the name of Gaylord Carter – he had begun playing when silent movies were “new”, 100 years ago, and continued performing through his 90th birthday. You can actually hear his artistry daily – over, and over, and over – in the Haunted Mansion, where his dancing hands created the magical sounds of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” on the ballroom organ where spirits enjoy their never ending waltz.
What was amazing to me about Gaylord, and his performance, was his spirit. He was so alive – by that time, I think he was probably in his 70s – but so full of energy, and joy, and laughter. I think too of a woman I never met, but who I often read of in the paper in Redlands, California – Hulda Crooks, who a park is named for in Loma Linda, California – remembered for her worldwide hiking including climbing Mount Whitney 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91, along with nearly 100 other peaks during those same years. I did not know my own grandparents, sadly – but there were many others I met during my time in various groups and organizations, or even just preparing their taxes – men and women who remained more vital and more excited about life than most of the people I encountered on a daily basis. They did not let their worlds get small – they pushed the limits, insisting on moving forward, and discovering new perspectives.
How do we retain that fresh outlook, how do we embrace the hope for something beyond what is known? In part, at least, it means letting go – our hands, our hearts, our intellects can only hold so much, and we must make choices about our energies, our focus and our goals. Many of us did that, perhaps, as December wound down and the fireworks began to be shown on our televisions and phones and laptops around the world, a celebratory orgy of rebirth and a yearned for optimism for a better year ahead, less dread, more joy, less alone, more together. But it is up to me, to you, to each of us in a way alone yet in a way together, to set our courses and our desires to deliberately, daily, move ahead – to not just sit where we are, to take the chances and the steps – tiny, or leaps of faith or both at once – into the future we want to make real. Intentions and wishes, resolutions and dreams – they are only launching pads. We cannot stay on the diving board forever, or at its foot, imagining that our fantasies will be realized and dwelling in the vision – we must work, we must sweat, we must sacrifice and lift up those around us moment by moment to inch forward and make it happen.
By this point, you may have wondered (or perhaps forgotten) how I might see any of this as relating to a Sinatra hit from 1965. I was eight then – soon I will be 8 times that – and my thoughts were of grades, and Hardy Boys books, and piano lessons. A composer whose name I did not know until I researched today, Ervin Drake, was already well known for a hit, “I Believe” – a song of hope – and this number was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1961, becoming a kind of “comeback song” for Sinatra when he recorded it 4 years later It is a song of memories and gratitude, reflections – the kind of thing that becomes more a part of life with age, perhaps. But it is the final lyric that comes to mind for me – “It was a very good year”.
For me, with all it’s trials (and yes, disappointments too), 2021 was an amazing, wonderful year – and I want that to be even truer in 2022. How can I make that so? How can I keep my world from shrinking as the rolling online dial for “year of birth” takes longer to scroll to? Part of it, I believe, is knowing this – my life is at its fullest when I am the truest, deepest, and best “me” I can be – whatever that is or looks like, but forever imperfect and flawed; therefore, the process of moving towards authenticity is never complete. You and I will never be “finished”; we can never stop our journey. A page on a calendar is neither a beginning or an end – our beginnings were before our parents met, and our endings lie outside the limits of our knowledge and imagination, but the now, the today, is where will build on one and create another yet to be seen.
My own desk calendar for 2021 was one of those “page a day” with quotes – and two, from December, seemed appropriate for my own reflection as I worked to shape my priorities and goals for my next stage of life. The first, by a contemporary author and counselor, Craig D. Lounsbrough, reminds me that there is work that must be accomplished, there are doors that must be closed, and that the to-do’s need to be done – so that I can move on. We must finish our business and not drag it endlessly into our future – there is not enough room for new dreams if we are forever reviving the old. We must choose.
The second, by Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago, forces us to recognize that creating our future takes courage. We cannot know the outcome, we cannot guarantee anything – the “safety zone” of our childhood, if it ever was even partially realized, does not extend into becoming whatever we choose of the possibilities on our menu of life. The uncertainty, the darkness, the fog of the future that stretches just beyond our nose is not, and never will be, under our control – we must seek reassurance and trust from something more than we can know or measure – but the only way to get there is to leap. The great something lies awaiting. It does take daring to enter that universe of perhaps and maybe.
For many, last year’s resolution is this years excuses and regrets. I did not accomplish everything I set out to do a year ago – so what? My resolution as I shared with a friend via text today is simple – keep going and keep growing. I will work to make my world bigger – not smaller. More full of life – taking the chances, welcoming new friends into our circle, exploring parts known and unknown – trying new adventures. How that looks and how it ends up will probably be very different than I might wish for when the baby new year toddles out in diapers until his older self shuffles off next winter, his journey over. But just as I can embrace the process, widen my world, and go forth boldly – so can you. Make your world bigger – or perhaps just realize it is already bigger than you ever could have imagined! Perhaps as you set sail, and catch the wind anew – whether today is January 1, or March 18, or October 27th – like me, you have matters to be finished, and then leaps to be made. But staying where we are – that is the surest guarantee of a shrinking world, and the quickest way to a year that we will never remember. I want to stand at the end of 2022, and look back and say – yes. Yes, this was a year that mattered – it was a very good year. Let us make the next one, better.
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