Old lady shoes on my feet.
I was not looking.
When did I grow old?
The above is a Haiku poem I wrote when I was about forty and teaching school. Once upon a time, I, an English teacher who wore high heels and platform shoes in the classroom, took to wearing Earth shoes.
You note I do not call this blog entry The Golden Years, The Sunshine Years, The Art of Aging Years. I do not call myself an Ancient Crone of Wisdom. No longer am I someone getting on in years. I have arrived! I’ve gotten old. I call it what it is. I don’t like it.
Here’s what getting old means:
When you are genuinely grateful to someone, and you spontaneously want to express this and start to give him or her a hug with a peck on the cheek, the person becomes still, perhaps draws back, not with an expression of horror yet with a reluctance to have those dry puckery dry lips come any closer.
“Once she whose lips were sought…”
Getting old means some people see you as ancient and rush to take your elbow and help you get out of your chair. They give you a concerned expression. They mean well. I don’t like their expression. I am offended by it. Sometimes I think: “You squirt. Wait until you grow old and see how you like it.”
But when someone offers me his or her seat on the bus, I am at first puzzled that they think I am old when I am inside as I have always been, and then I graciously take the seat they offer, and I like it and like the one who got up for me and I offer my bounteous thanks as my gift to mankind.
And take this: When you get older, if you forget something, like what you were going to say, those who care about you and those who do not, lift their eyebrows and nod conspiringly as if forgetting is something new and that you haven’t been doing it all your life.
Then there are all the people you knew and cared about who are no longer with us. They ran out on you.
Now I am going to tell what is the worst about getting old, the guaranteed worst of all for me.
I moved around a lot and lost touch with a very few key dear people I cared about and crave to see, to talk to, to hold their hand, to tell them how much they meant to me and still do, or ask for their forgiveness, or, at least, to know how they are, to know even if they are still on Earth. My family too. Oh, yes, my family too, yet family comes under its own category.
Sadder still than my own sadness at no longer being young is when I think of blessed Wendy Paulus, for instance, that angel who was such a good friend to me, before and after I left my husband and before I moved away from Sacramento, who let me use her car all the time as easily as she baked a pie or wiped fingerprints off the door jambs when she walked down her hall, Wendy, good Wendy, dear Wendy, the neighbor who sewed Lauren and me matching dresses for Lauren's first birthday and who was the truest friend of all, Wendy, my good friend, Wendy, who, I learned later after I had moved away from California, had left her husband and her three children and run off with another man, and no one knew where she had gone.
How could I not have sought to find her back then when the trail was fresh, yet, even worse than regret, the worst thing for me about growing old is thinking of Wendy with such longing and a flood of tears running down my sunken cheeks, and the total impossibility of conceiving that she no longer can be the beautiful Wendy I used to know, oh, oh, could she have gotten old too? No, not you, Wendy, not you. I want you as ever in that special time back then when we were young mothers, and you were a Wendy of frills and perfume and mascara and your beautiful giving heart.