|The Washington Monument|
During this past week, the thought of perspective has been on my mind. I've lived a long time, and the perspective I have today of what is going on in the world is different from someone who has not lived so long. One's perspective changes with distance from the event. Or the object. The classic picture of a train track disappearing as you view the horizon comes to mind. When you get to a certain age, your perspective naturally shifts from looking ahead at the long decades of life to those already traveled.
We moved here to Bellingham to enjoy our retirement years, almost a decade ago. I started writing this blog in 2009, and the years have flowed along without much outward change. It's been seventeen years since the turn of the century, and when I compare my life today with that of almost two decades ago, it's very different. But the change has been so gradual, in most respects anyway, that there are only a few events that stand out for me. My son Chris died in 2002, that was one, and leaving my career of thirty years and moving to a different part of the country in 2008, that was another.
Last week I was lying on my yoga mat in class, listening to the gentle words of the instructor, and I was following my breath, with palms lying across my lower ribs and feeling the gentle rise and fall of the breath. A long-buried memory came into my mind: I remembered just having given birth and laying flat on the bed. I had placed my palms on my belly in just such a way, and the sensation of having no baby in there was shocking. It felt like my hand was going right down to the bed underneath me. During the nine-month gestation period, I had gradually grown accustomed to that mound underneath my fingers, and I would explore the movement of the baby inside with wonder and joy.
And then the moment of birth changed everything. In that instant I felt empty and the infant had not yet become real to me. The world had changed, and I was no longer pregnant with a big belly underneath my fingers. That moment long ago in time, more than fifty years ago, was suddenly present as I lay on that yoga mat following my breath. If I had tried to conjure up that image, from that moment in the past, I could not have done so. But there it was, and it's been close to my consciousness ever since. Remembering being a young mother, remembering from the perspective of being a septuagenarian.
When I was young, I remember an older person telling me that she felt no different at seventy than she did at twenty. The only difference was the way others reacted to her, and the change she registered at her reflection in the mirror. When change is gradual, as it is in aging, you don't notice the incremental loss of color in your hair, or muscle tone, or the accumulation of wrinkles. I sure don't remember when my hair changed from brown to white, but now I can hardly imagine it being otherwise. As I raise my leg to stretch it in yoga class, I notice how the skin has become loose and crepey, just like any other old person's skin. When did that happen?
Being an active person, I didn't realize how much I've changed over the years, because I am still active, but it's different now. Where did I ever find the energy to travel as much as I did, hold down a full-time job and still manage to spend every weekend and every vacation skydiving, going to bed every night looking forward to the next day's full schedule. That's what is different today: now I find myself getting much more tired after much less activity. I am still able to hike, take long walks, do yoga and exercise classes, but things keep breaking down: the knees or back, now that pesky hip pain to deal with. This is the same hip I damaged so badly in June 2000 when I broke myself up, and now I think the damage is catching up with me.
The only thing I know how to do, though, is keep going until I simply cannot do it any more. The perspective I have from this vantage point midway through my eighth decade of life is that it's been a good long run, and I'll keep on trying everything to stave off the inevitable. Bertrand Russell once said, "In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” I've long taken good health for granted, and I'm thinking about how fortunate I've been in my life.
There have been some really good things I've experienced in the last decade, and one of them has been the luxury of blogging. What a fine world it is, with others like me, young and old together finding a community that helps me find my way forward. And you, dear reader, know just what I'm talking about. It's the perspective of others that I learn from, and I hope that my own perspective helps others as well.
And now it's time for me to start my day. I've fulfilled my first task, and now as I hop out of bed, not too vigorously so I won't wake my partner, I'll dress, do my exercises and other normal morning tasks, and then head to the coffee shop, my latte and my friends awaiting my arrival. Until next week, I hope you will be well and surrounded by love.