On New Year’s Day I found myself in a hospital emergency room because of a severe and unexpected asthma attack. Couldn’t find my keys. Didn’t feed my cat. Didn’t even put on socks (and it was freezing) because I had not a minute to spare. I left my home in a hurry. I fled (as best I could, given the amount of oxygen available to me). I figured I’d return home in 4 or 5 hours. Wrong. It was more like 6 days.
I hadn’t been hospitalized for asthma since my very first attack 32 years ago, and on previous visits to the ER, I had been treated and released and back to normal in a day or two. During the first three days of this stint. I was concerned because I wasn’t recovering as quickly as I was used to. My lungs were slower to clear. My oxygen levels were unstable. There was conversation about living wills and the dreaded possibility of intubation, which, while life-saving, is associated with a mortality rate of 10 to 13 percent. I had nothing but my Reiki hands and Buddhist practice to get me through the crisis and back to my apartment.
And then I remembered: I was no longer 33 but 65, and at this age bouncing back takes longer, I’m learning.
I had been feeling 40 for the longest, but between 2008 and 2013, something changed. I shifted mentally and emotionally and the 40s-feeling became the 60s-feeling, leapfrogging over the 50s-feeling. Between those years I was an unemployed person, an older unemployed person whose credentials and qualifications and skills seemed to be side notes. One recruiter suggested that I dye my hair. Another sighed while reading my resume during an interview and said, “When did we get so old.” I was overwhelmed by articles about and advice for older workers. Age discrimination, which had been only a theory became a reality and with that came thoughts of social security, Medicare. Between those years I couldn’t say with certainty what was going to happen to me, how I would take care of myself. I took a day at a time and thought a lot about age and aging and struggled to arm myself against stereotypes and the seeds that society plants. I was determined to plant my own seeds and nurture my own garden.
Do I have any theories on or advice about aging? No. I have observations. I can say that aging is better than the alternative. I can say that living long brings the gift of experience and, yes to be cliché, wisdom. I can say that I have fewer inhibitions and self-consciousness. I can say that I know my place in the universe and my relationship to the planet and its inhabitants. I can say that health and good friends and humor are important. I can say that I trust my intuition as much as I trust my intellect. I can say that listening carefully brings its own education. I can say that making and resting on assumptions can be detrimental. I can say that 60+ is not the new 40+. It simply is what it is, and that varies from person to person. I believe that the perception of time is relative to, among several things, age. It’s true: Time is moving with greater speed and I seem to be sprinting through the months, the years. I don’t run for buses and trains – what’s the rush! I can say that stability is an illusion because nothing is unchanging — everything is in a state of flux. I’ve found my soul work and I’ve come to know the value of service to others. Thirty years ago I was all about service to myself. I have watched – at long distance – with wonder and nostalgia my niece and nephew move from infancy into teenage-hood. My sister is 14 younger than I am, and now we’ve arrived at a place where we can have open and honest conversations because the little sister-big sister dichotomy has faded. We are simply sisters of a certain age, looking good, meeting challenges, and with our brother (11 years younger than I am), laughing a lot and still looking forward to life with all its changes, surprises and gifts.