Creating Rites of Passage for Old Age
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A TGB READER'S STORY: The Question

By Carol Leskin

TheQuestionCaroleLeskin2

“What do you miss most from your old life?” she asked gently.

The woman was a stranger sitting next to me in the doctor's office. She looked to be about 50, pretty, with the body of an athlete - well muscled arms and legs.

She was in a wheelchair. I was holding my cane and back support. The question surprised me, but I was not offended. For some reason, I felt comfortable answering her. What did surprise me was how easily and quickly I was able to respond.

“Sailing”, I said.

“Oh, I think I can understand that. For me, it's running,” she said with a sigh.

We turned our chairs a bit so we could face one another. It seemed appropriate.

“What is it about sailing that you miss?”

I laughed. Everything, I thought to myself. “The smell of the salt water. The feeling of the wind. The colors of the sky. The sound of the sails as they capture the breeze. Or the ropes, when the wind subsides and they clang against the boat. The seagulls. The laughter of my mates as we flew over the waves. Or their grunts when a sudden storm required strength and skill to guide us safely back to port.”

I looked down at my hands, suddenly embarrassed by my flowery description.

She smiled. “For me, it's the silence. The only sound - my feet as they hit the ground. The feel of the earth beneath me. I used to run mostly on trails in the woods or mountains. Or on the beach. Usually alone. It's the only time I got to be truly me. To hear my thoughts. There are so many people most of the time - too many sometimes.” She sighed.

We grew quiet.

The nurse appeared from behind the door to the rooms where we would each face whatever news the doctor would have.

“I’m Linda, she said. It was nice talking to you”.

“Carole, “I replied. Same here”. And she was gone.

I've been thinking a lot about that chance encounter. I learned something surprising in those few minutes.

It isn't the many physical abilities or pain free life I led for so many years that I miss the most. I am learning to deal with their loss. Reluctantly. Sadly. Even angrily. Some days better than others. But determined.

What I miss is the feeling that there will always be more. More days of sailing, traveling, meeting new people, trying new things. Adventure. Freedom. Limitlessness.

Once again, I am reminded of time. The limits aging imposes in various ways. I hear the clock ticking, and I wonder, given my new health challenges, how can I make the most of the time I have left?

The ship is sailing, and I am not on board. But I'm still able to stand on the beach.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: We have worked our way through the initial batch of reader stories and beginning next week, I will start publishing second stories from some of the same writers.

So – you may send new stories whether you have published previously or not. Instructions are here. Only one story. Please.



Comments

Beautifully written.

Beautiful....your encounter with a stranger reminded me of something I often think about...people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime....

I commented to my husband, just yesterday, that I miss the "younger us"...we are married 52 years now.

Lovely, thoughtful and insightful. And you did meet someone new. Perhaps only an encounter but with meaning.
Genie

One of the best Reader’s Stories I’ve seen. Maybe I’ve said that before. Captures the essence and melancholy of loss. Beautifully told.

Beautiful. Powerful images. With so few words, thank you.

Lovely. I’m thinking of your story of sharing with others, if only briefly, some of the thoughts and feelings that make up both of you. So often we can close ourselves to, or simply miss opportunities to interact and thereby get insight into another’s life.
And that’s a wonderful painting heading up your story! What is the tale there?

This has put into words some of my thoughts. Thank you.

"What I miss is the feeling there will always be more." That captured it beautifully. Thank you.

Maybe that's what I'm losing these days -- the feeling there will always be more. Slowly resigning myself to the fact that much of what I dreamed about doing one day is becoming impossible.

And the Hoffman painting is beautiful.

Beautiful story, beautifully written. Thank you so much.

As always, Carole, so insightful and eloquent. Phrases we can keep close to us and recall at will.

This was so fine to read, and aren't we all able to relate to the loss of 'more,' as we've known it.

Our more as we age becomes a repetition or "again", as we can have more - sunrises, sunsets, feeling the sun on our body, the wind through the hair and smiling with the delightful sounds of children playing. But then even those can become a loss, so again we redefine "more."

Thank you for this which will be popping in and out of my head these next couple of days. It instantly brought up the visual and visceral emotions when my toddler granddaughter who, then 1-3, loved the swings and yelled "MORE" the entire time.

“Given my new health challenges, I wonder how can I make the most of the time I have left?” Most inspiring words and story!

Carole, that is the most beautiful story I have ever read. You captured so much in such a short time and it is haunting. Thank you for an image that is both profound and memorable.

I am in a wheelchair now and can appreciate the picture of loss and the courage to adjust to it.

All I can say is that I wish I had written that. Thank you.

Far and away one of the best TGB Reader stories I've read. If Carole isn't a writer, she should be!

At 82, what do I miss about my old life? Just about everything! I was active but never an athlete, so much of what I miss is pretty basic. I miss living without pain. I miss working. I miss being able to DO the fairly mundane tasks that used to be on my "To Do" list (I don't keep one any more since I know I won't be able to cross off much). I miss waking up most days feeling pretty good. I miss knowing that I'll probably feel about the same the next day. I miss not adopting another rescue cat because I'm not sure I can care for 3 senior kitties. And, yes, like Jane, I miss the "younger us" that my husband of 41+ years and I once were.

I have zero desire to be 25 or 35 again (my life was pretty much of a mess back then) but I'd take 55 or 65 in a heartbeat. Still, like most of us, I muddle through and do the best I can. I know I'm lucky in that I haven't (yet) encountered cancer, heart disease or other major killer diseases of old age. It is what it is. . .

This haunting, beautiful story touched my heart so deeply that I can barely breathe.

Well that was just beautiful....

A beautiful moment happened just like that. These are the best conversations. A momentary connection.

I kept pausing, closing my eyes and imagining you sailing and Linda running those trails.

You are an excellent writer.

This is a terrific vignette—artlessly evocative and complex at the same time. I hope that the fact it is an actual story rather than an extended comment will set the standard for future TGB stories. I am envious of the author’s ability to stay within the 750 word limit and still tell a complete story.

Utterly beautiful. And thought provoking. Although I was blessed to have a wonderful life, from my past I really only miss my beloved husband. But I am living a new season now. I learned that anything can happen, anytime, and I'm not in control. Now I'm exquisitely aware of life's ephemeral transience, and of each moment's value, to be experienced and enjoyed to the utmost.

"...I am reminded of time. The limits aging imposes in various ways. I hear the clock ticking...'

That phrase says it all.

This beautifully written story says so much about where I am in my life. Thank you Carole, your story really touched my heart.

A very touching - and so true - story.

I miss not having to think about my body. Not having to think if something will hurt or if I will be able to do it. Not being fat! Not seeing the future as pretty empty.

This is beautiful, thank you for sharing. Sometimes these simple moments with a stranger are magic.

Agree...this is so beautifully written. I will save it to reflect on many times in the future.

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