I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What I see when I look up

Blue skies through the trees
When I was on our Thursday hike last week, I happened to look up and saw the brilliant blue sky and trees illuminated by the sun above me. It was so pretty that I stopped to take a picture. The photo doesn't do justice to the beauty I saw, but it made me think about how incredibly lucky I am to be able to spend time in the wilderness. I've been going out with the Senior Trailblazers on an almost weekly basis since September 2008. That's more than seven years now, longer than I have been blogging.

I started this blog in December 2009, almost a year after I had been writing on my other blog, DJan-ity, because I felt constrained to keep my posts short and write for a larger audience. I've written 323 posts here, only writing on Sunday mornings, and just looking at that number amazes me that there have been so many, that it has been so long. I guess it's because of the new year that I am in a reflective mood. It seems like a good time to stop and take stock of my life. This past year was momentous in many respects, but only a few events rise up be examined: I went to Turkey in February; I gave up skydiving and sold my gear; I visited my sister Norma Jean and met my new grand-niece Alicia; and I planted my garden spot for the fourth year in a row. In 2016, I will continue to learn more about the garden and will visit my sister again in the fall. I will always be a skydiver, but now I'm a retired one. I'm pretty much done with international travel, too; it's not much fun any more.

But gardening continues to bring me pleasure and I'm looking forward to the season. Me, who never dug in the dirt before and didn't know anything about the joys and trials of gardening. This post tells how our community garden began in May 2012. For one thing, I thought I was in shape back then and was taken by surprise by how much work gardening is, and how sore I was. Now I expect it, and I've discovered ways to minimize all that bending and pulling, and even so my arms, back and legs get sore in a way that none of my other exercising even begins to touch. I've learned how to battle slugs and aphids and love the fruits of my labor. Nothing tastes quite as good as a strawberry or a tomato right straight out of the garden. I'm happy to have only a 7-by-23-foot plot. It's more than enough for me.

Yesterday I went to see the new Star Wars movie. Many of my blogging friends have seen it and most of them loved it. I've seen all seven of them, of course, and the first three were wonderful. It was 1977 when the first episode was released; both Han Solo and Princess Leia are present in the first one and in this last one, too. People are surprised at how much they've aged, but give me a break: it's been forty years! I heard that Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) had to lose thirty pounds to reprise the role. She looks her age, but that is to be expected, if you ask me. She obviously hasn't had tons of plastic surgery to try to stop the appearance of aging, as so many in Hollywood have done. Harrison Ford (Han Solo) bears little resemblance to the dashing young man he was forty years ago. I noticed a few scenes where he obviously isn't able to run very fast; I smiled when I noticed that because we are the same age.

I enjoyed the movie but I wouldn't say I loved it. There were a lot of action scenes that began to tire me out and make me wish it could all be over. The parts I enjoyed the most are the relationships between people. The new faces are wonderful (playing the parts of Finn, Rey, and Poe) and the new villain is pretty good, too (Kylo Ren). The movie sets you up for the next one, and it made me remember how much I yearned for the next episode when I walked out of the first Star Wars movie. Almost forty years later, here I am still enjoying adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

As I take stock of the past year, I realize that there are more than a couple physical aspects of aging that have made themselves known to me lately. I also cannot deny that being in my mid-seventies means that not only have I slowed down, but I am having to watch my step more carefully. I've taken several spills this past year, and I've got pictures of scraped knees and elbows to prove it. I broke a trekking pole falling this last Thursday on the snow and will have to replace it, since I cannot hike on anything other than flat surfaces without the use of them. Giving me four points of contact with the ground rather than two makes all the difference in my ability to stay upright on ascents and descents. That's a little distressing when I think about it. I'm looking down a lot, watching for uneven ground.

And then there's neuritis and neuralgia. I remember as a kid hearing those words on TV selling something to help old folks deal with them. They are words for inflamed nerves. I've got several places on my body where I've sustained past injuries, and apparently as you age those damaged nerve pathways flare up now and then. It feels like shingles but isn't as serious, apparently. Recently I had a bout of neuritis that made me spend several days taking it very easy. It's better now, though. But it's enough to bring you down if one only concentrates on what's going south in the physical realm.

Well, I began this post with a title that reminds me of what I see when I look up. When I stop for a moment and lean on my trekking poles and see what's above me, it can be breathtaking. I also take that as a metaphor for life: if I spend all my time looking at what's not working, what once was but isn't any more, I could get very depressed. But I get to choose not only how to live my life but also how I manage the aging process. I can always stop and gaze at the heavens and remember that there is much, much more about life to learn and explore as I navigate the shoals of seniority.

Not everybody gets the opportunity to grow old, but I have, and I am grateful, so very grateful for the health and abilities I still have in abundance. I have just finished a second reading of Atul Gawande's book Being Mortal and cannot recommend it highly enough. Although I read it the first time only a year ago, it was like reading it for the first time, since I've been studying to become an Advance Care Directive facilitator. My perspective has changed. Now I have my own hard copy and will cherish it and re-read it again and again. It's a tool to help me become a wise old woman.

It happened again. I sat down in my bed with my laptop across my knees, sipped my tea as I wrote this post, and now I've reached the place where I take stock of my surroundings and get ready to publish. My partner is, as usual, still sleeping next to me, and the window curtain is pulled against the darkness outside. The sun won't come up for another hour, but the days are getting imperceptibly longer now. We will gain more than a minute of daylight today, which adds up quickly from one week to the next. And every day we gain a few more seconds and minutes as we move toward the light.

I hope you will think about where you have come this past year and share it with me, if you wish. I love all of my virtual friends and wish you all good things in the coming year. Until next week, when we meet again, be well and please accept this electronic hug.


Linda Reeder said...

My next post is going to be about Star Wars! We saw the movie early on New Years's Eve with Jill and the kids. Liked it, don't want to wait a year and a half rot the next chapter.

I did find some irony in your beginning to talk of looking up, but then writing about how you have to look down so much as you are hiking. Me too. I guess getting old means you have to be deliberate about looking up, stopping and leaning on our poles.

As I've read other's reflections on the year just passed, I find myself unable to focus on much in my own past year. It was not very momentous. But the alternative to big moments is a life calmly led, and pleasantly enjoyed, and unremarkable in its evenness. I think that's a good thing.

Marie Smith said...

I've come to realize that life is about adapting as we age, finding that which makes each new age and circumstance enjoyable. Adapting keeps me interested, curious and gives me a sense of accomplishment when I manage something in a new way. Happy adapting for 2016.

O-town Ramblings said...

Happy New Year DJan! I'm so happy to have you in my life and I benefit so much from your wisdom and perspective. You are a great example to me of how to age well and to never stop learning while also living as fully as possible in the present.

I read the book Aging Well last month. What an amazing piece of work! I can't recommend it enough to everyone I know and have been pestering both of my parents to read it. Everything he talked about makes so much sense to me. As I watch my 91-year old grandpa age and my dad and his siblings struggle with how to best provide for his needs I especially relate to many of the challenges discussed in the book.

As far as reflections on the past year go, despite many challenges and heartache it was a very good year. I finally shed ways of thinking and a relationship that was holding me back from living my life in the best way possible. I'm excited about 2016 and the many things I hope to accomplish this year.

Far Side of Fifty said...

It was a tough year for me as a caretaker. I know about those aging pains...it sucks to get old but we must keep moving until we can move no more. I always look down when I walk, a habit after being injured....if I look up I stop and plant my feet firmly!

My husband who is the most kind gentle man has endured more in the past eight years than anyone deserves. AND he says "Just look around and you will see many people who are worse off than I am."
I only do what I can do in a day and that must be enough. :)

Jackie said...

Your writing soothes me, Jan.
Your gift for transforming feelings into words for the reader to see and to relate is a gift. You have a gift from God. Thank you for sharing it.
The photo is beautiful, so I can only imagine how MUCH more beautiful the sky and trees were to you as you stood there and looked up....
Makes me so thankful that I am still able to see and behold creation.
Keep looking up, my friend.

Elephant's Child said...

How I love your attitude.
I mourn more than have the words to say that you are half a world away from me.
I mostly muddle along. What my body won't allow me to do (or to do easily) can often be circumvented with a little thought.
And I do get a lot of solace and healing in the garden. With rather a lot of work.
Hugs to you. Cyber by necessity but heart felt.

Gigi said...

I remember being forced to watch Star Wars when it first came out all those years ago - I was bored to tears so the odds of me going to this one are slim - but I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Have a great week, DJan.

Arkansas Patti said...

I smiled through most of this post, partially in recognition and partly in admiration. I really liked that you are a "retired" sky diver. Think I will adopt that and will now refer to myself as a "retired" biker. Keep setting the bar high Djan.

Anonymous said...

I prefer romantic comedies over action films, but have to admit that many fans enjoyed Star Wars, including my husband.

It's good that you enjoy your life despite your infirmities due to the aging process.

Peace and Love, DJan!

The Furry Gnome said...

I have to look up at that blue sky more often, and not look down. (Even though i do watch my footing a lot more carefully these days)!

Red said...

The parts of the old body do tend to show their wear unfortunately. Sometimes it's hard not to dwell on the. I had bursitis on the right knee this year. My only restriction was not to kneel on it. After eight months it's just about gone. Your photo sets a good theme that we should look on the beauty or the bright side of things. My eighty eight year old friend always says after skating , "It's another day that we don't have to wear diapers."

amanda said...

Hugs back at you, DJan. I soak up the wisdom you share. THANK YOU.

Deb Shucka said...

I just added Being Mortal to my library list and look forward to talking about it with you. As always, I'm inspired by your life. You continue to grow and challenge yourself, and to find wonder wherever you look. May this year bring you new adventures and and the ability to enjoy them all. Sending you love.

Rita said...

I already knew I was in poor physical condition but the move this last year drove that point home. Not that I didn't get through it quite decently and was able to do more than I actually expected...but the residual effects threw me into a fibro flare with all kinds of extra arthritis pain for months. I know it will pass. Well, let up, I should say--LOL! It is--slowly--and every day there are so many more wonderful things about this shift in my life that I really can't complain. But...it does make one contemplate one's physical future, that's for sure, as time marches on. ;)

I'll have to wait a long time to see the new Star Wars movie. I know I have been surprised that I've heard people are picking on Carrie Fisher for looking her age and yet I don't hear them saying anything about Harrison Ford? And of course they are going to look older, like you said--it's almost 40 years ago for crying out loud. In the meantime, I'll have to content myself with the last season of Downton Abbey. :)

Tabor said...

Sorry, but I thought Star Wars could have been seen by me on DVD. I did not like the young man who play the villain, felt Carrie Fisher's face was too stiff and cannot figure out why the soldiers wear all that armor when it does not protect them one bit. Plot line was very thin.

I will think about ordering the book you recommend. We all have to face our mortality now and again and having the right tools would be good.

Sally Wessely said...

Keicha keeps pestering me to read that book! I guess I better do it or you will be on my case also.

Looking up is a good thing today. Well, unless you are hiking, then make sure you are looking down enough to watch your step. Aging is a joy and a trial. You continue to inspire me.

As far as Star Wars goes...I really enjoyed it. I thought a few parts did drag a bit, but that might have been because I had never seen the other movies before. I thought both Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford looked quite awesome. I found myself wishing I'd aged as well as they had. It is all a matter of perspective when it comes to age.

Mel said...

Happy New Year! I always enjoy catching up on your posts! I hope the nerve pain problems are short lived and that you suffer no more falls. I'm learning that I need to be extra careful in my 50's so that I can hope to do a fraction of what you can in your 70's! I love your picture looking up, and always find myself taking shots of the sky through the trees. I think you have found the recipe for happiness though, with the little garden and lots of treks in nature.

My kids just saw Star Wars and they loved it. I wasn't in the mood for all the action and noise just yet, I'm more in the mood for documentaries right now :)

Thank you for the book recommendation. Have you read Aging as a Spiritual Practice? I revisit it now and then and always find something useful to take away.

Hope you have many more wonderful adventures this year, and enjoy planning your garden. Spring will be here in the blink of an eye!

Glenda Beall said...

DJan you are always an inspiration. I relate to the aches and pains - neuralgia especially and I also deal with neuropathy, pain in my feet.
My brother, 86, stepped out of his back door recently and on the second step somone had left him a package. He didn't expect it or see it and when he stepped on it, he fell hard on the concrete floor of his garage. I am so, so happy he didn't break a bone and is still walking 2 miles a day. We do have to look down when we walk. My little dog's toys have caused me more stumbles than I care to think about. So, I am trying hard to look down when I walk in my own house.
Keep on hiking and think about me when you do. I love the woods, fields and streams, but can't walk much now. I'm so glad you can.

Barb said...

I like the thought of you being a "retired sky diver." I also use poles in the winter if I walk the trails or snowshoe and of course when I ski. If I hike steep, uneven trails in the summer, I also use them both for balance and for helping to take pressure off my knees on the way down. However, in winter I do long walks on a plowed dirt road near the house, and I just put my Yaktrax on my trail running shoes and stride out. I really try not to look down too much - I think it's bad for posture and starts the dreaded shuffle. Of course, if I'm on very rocky/uneven terrain, I keep my eyes on the trail! I have the Being Mortal book and have also recommended it.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I stopped by the blog here yesterday with the intent to leave a comment but got side tracked due to your mention of Being Mortal. I had put that on my Kindle a while back … maybe when you first mentioned it? … but I hadn’t started reading it. I opened it up and have found it great so far! I had to highlight a segment where we are reminded that in past times being an older person had so much respect and admiration that people often lied about their age, claiming to be older than they really were. Now, of course, things have gone to the opposite extreme. It’s almost enough to make one wonder about retiring to a part of the world where elders are still held in high regard. Anyway, once again you have written an excellent post causing me to reflect on life. I thank you and look forward to your next post.

troutbirder said...

Beautiful and thoughtful post. As to a few details no more exhausting overseas flights and travel. We're adapting to small several day bus tours with local people and friends. On the caregiving from I'm adapting slowly to my new role in that field. It's taken time, frustration and learning a new level of patience but we're slowly getting. Even looking up again to see the blue skies...:)