Dear Sophie Merrick, susan, Tamar, Setya, Mary, Cop Car, Blogin Idiot, Laura, Deejay, Jean, Marja-Leena, Rana, Always Question, Cowtown Pattie, Nina, Mrs. R., kenju, Millie Garfield, loretta, Jamie Dawn, Gordon Coale, Zuleme, JimR, Melinda, Ned Smith, joanna, M Sinclair Stevens, Lillium, Jen and the others of you who sent email notes…
The Timeline notwithstanding, mostly I keep personal stories on this blog to anecdotes in service to larger issues about aging, leaving emotional components for you and other visitors to read between the lines if you are so disposed.
Time Goes By was never intended as a diary or journal. What I wanted here, and still do, is an exploration, an explication, of the mystery of getting older, an effort to pull away the veil behind which our culture uncaringly hides old people.
But that final, painful decision to leave New York City, reached during the long, dark hours of the two nights before my Friday post, seemed very much part of the story of what it's really like to get older. I wrote Forced Retirement in Crabby Old Lady’s third-person voice because it was too close that morning, too wrenching in my sleep-deprived state of mind, to do in my own.
You might have discerned over the past weeks that I am taken with a book titled What Are Old People For? written by a compassionate and understanding geriatrician, still quite young, named William H. Thomas who has made aging and improving life for older people not only his profession, but his passion. Indeed, his ideas and goals are as radical as our president’s determination to gut Social Security. But unlike Mr. Bush’s proposal, they are humane and life-giving and good.
No matter what I have been writing about here since I read his book the first time, Dr. Thomas has had something wise to say about it. And many times, he explains for me the changes I go through as events unfold on this journey toward elderhood. He says that old people’s pleas to remain in their homes are not, as many suppose, a distaste for the new:
“…far more powerful is the older person’s attachment to place. This should not be confused with nostalgia or simple habit. A sense of place is woven into the being of an elder in ways that adults have a hard time understanding. A sapling can be dug up and transplanted with little difficulty. Uproot a mighty oak and it will die…
“The gift of place is the gift of meaning. Human beings possess a remarkable ability to unite meaning with the material world. This is how a person, place, or thing becomes sacred. Is a Bible, a Torah, or a Koran made of paper, ink, and glue? Yes. Is it much more than paper, ink, and glue? Yes, again. Holy books are different from telephone books because the former are enriched with meaning while the latter have none…
“For the elder, a loss of place carries with it a potentially lethal loss of meaning. Taking meaning away from a person or place is a form of profanity…”
These quotes are from Dr. Thomas’s lead-in to a set of chapters on his excellent ideas for new kinds of residences for elders who cannot live entirely on their own anymore, which is not my circumstance. But they go a long way toward explaining my despair at leaving my home, my friends and my life in New York City. And for me, understanding is crucial for getting to the far side of hard times.
I will make a new home somewhere and this move will not be a “lethal loss of meaning” for me. I have lesser, though still formidable, emotional obstacles to overcome: I never had a sense of home, of roots, of belonging, even in childhood, until I came to New York. I had lived in six or eight cities before and when, after I had been here about 15 years, I bought this home in 1983, I swore they would take me out feet first; 42 moves in a lifetime is enough. Yeah, yeah - never say never and all that. One more move won’t kill me; I have a lot of practice.
But it ain’t easy.
So I took the weekend off from communication - the internet, blogging, email, the telephone - to wallow in my misery and let the idea of leaving New York begin to settle in.
And when I returned, here you all are with love and support and ideas and encouragement. I’ve read your comments now several times, weeping through the disorderly jumble of feelings they beget - of your care and concern, of my loss - and my gain.
Sophie Merrick, Tamar, Mary, Laura, Deejay, Nina, Mrs. R., Millie Garfield, Loretta, Jamie Dawn and JimR: To know my sadness and anger are shared is a blessing.
Setya and Rana: You reminded me that there is a whole country is out there for me to choose from, though my preference is for blue states, a nearby ocean and four definitive seasons.
Cop Car, Marja-Leena, Always Question, Cowtown Pattie, kenju, Melinda and Ned Smith: Your belief in my ability to endure is already helping to make it so.
Susan, Blogin Idiot, Jean, Zuleme, joanna, M Sinclair Stevens, Lillium and Jen: If I had my druthers, I would make my living writing books and/or for magazines and it’s not for lack of trying that I don’t. It’s been a rough year for all my endeavors toward paid employment, but now there will be more time to pursue this one.
And Gordon Coale: You said it! - more succinctly and more pointedly than I dared.
To say thank you seems a puny response to the gift you have bestowed on me over this weekend: My sense of place in the physical world may be disrupted, but I’ve never felt so solidly placed in my virtual world.
Now let’s get back to kicking some ass so the generations behind us, when they get old, won’t be forced into retirement or displacement against their will.