Selling my apartment and leaving New York City was a wrenching decision - the hardest of my life. It was the only fiscally sane thing to do, but I resisted. I was a New Yorker through and through - in my bones - and over the decades I lived there, dozens of people (hundreds? a thousand?), often native-born, said they knew no one who was as much as a Manhattanite as I.
One day, during the months I dithered, while whining to my former husband about leaving the only place that ever felt like home (perhaps not for the first time), he told me to get over it. Circumstances required that I move on, he said, and my 37 years as a New Yorker would always be part of me.
Simple, obvious, but nevertheless a revelation: my New York experience was more than half my life and wouldn't leave me anytime soon.
Although I continued to postpone the decision for awhile, Alex's advice gave me the shove I needed to get on with the next stage of my life. Since then, that wise counsel has had wider ramifications.
Getting old forces change. From the minor, such as declining energy making cleaning the entire house in one fell swoop impossible, to the major, whether it is health problems, retirement from the workforce or adjustments due to reduced income - living day-to-day is not the same as it had been for decades. We can "get over it" or we can spend the rest of our lives lamenting that things aren't as they once were.
It is hard - and sad - to leave one's home as I did, or when old friends die or children move across the country or even the world. But no one can take away the memories - and change brings new experiences, many of which are positive, instructive and just plain interesting if you think about them intentionally.
Take sex. From puberty until my mid-fifties, sex ruled my life - getting it, enjoying it, getting more of it. When there wasn't someone to roll around in bed with, I was looking for someone. For 40-odd years that was the way it was. Even though it sometimes overrode good sense and caused untold complications of the heart, I didn't know life could be any other way.
It takes the distance of years and the waning of hormones to know it can be different, to know that it was all chemically induced.
In a culture as openly sex-soaked as ours in which even clothing for five-year-old girls is sexualized, it is blasphemy to admit that you are indifferent to sex. That's really what the American pursuit of wealth and beauty is about - getting more sex. And if you're not doing that, you're not normal, "they" say, in need of a little blue pill or any number of dubious nostrums for sale on the internet. But we don't need to buy that belief.
Like leaving home, leaving behind slavery to hormones is sad at first and, in our culture, embarrassing - not something you want to admit even to yourself and certainly not others. But on further thought, it simplifies life and leaves time for a lot of other things. Sex was then (and loads of fun), this is now and it's time to move on.
For most of our lives, getting old was assumed to be a gradual ending of many things leading to the ultimate end, death. However, without meaning to sound sappy, each ending, each loss brings a beginning and with it a new perspective and, sometimes, wisdom. Can't run a mile anymore? Then walk a mile and appreciate the time to smell the flowers.
Of course it is sad to let go of old habits, friends, places, pleasures, robust health and other losses that accompany age. But when the sadness eases, as it will, Alex's advice to get over it and move on seems the only sage thing to do. Been there, done that. What's next?
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Shannon recalls the thrills of a childhood amusement park in Weelitch's.]