Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.
Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”
How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?
My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.
“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August
When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!
The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,
And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.
Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.
Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!
Look long, love deep while you may.
Too soon December.”
Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.
Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”
Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.
Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.
When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers, “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”
As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.
Look long, love deep.