The Road to 60

It’s a long road to 60 – and it happens in a nano-second.

This is the year I am 60. When I was in high school in the late 70’s we used to play a game: how old will we be in some future year – like 2000? In our teens, the idea that we would be almost 40 seemed like such an astonishing age, it was almost impossible to comprehend. And that in 2020, to be almost 60. Unimaginable!

Me at 60

And yet, here I am. 60 years old to start 2022. It is, and has been, nothing like anything I could have imagined. For one thing, there are parts of my mind and memory that still feel like I am 18. Or 28. Or 38. I carry all the ages inside of this one age. All the versions of me. All the many lifetimes within the one lifetime. All the identities over time, which also change over time: child, daughter, sister, student, wife, mother, divorcee, rinse and repeat – wife, mother, divorcee one more time – adoptee (discovered in my 40’s), biological family member, single adult, partner in a long-term, 2 country relationship, mother-in-law, grandmother, care-giver, neighbour, friend. Secretary/receptionist, researcher, Executive Director, consultant in many different iterations, company creator and builder. Learner. Practicing magician. World traveler.

Inhabiting the role of mother and mother-in-law of adult children and as an involved grandmother (for which I am grateful), I often wonder what it was like for my parents when they were my age. And I have no idea. When they were in their 60s and I was in my 30s with my own very consuming career and life, my own children, what was it like for them in their role of having adult children and grandchildren they loved deeply but were not so involved with? What hopes, griefs, disappointments, cherished moments did they have that we never talked about? At that age, even if I thought my perspective was wide, it was pretty narrowly focused on what was right in front of me.

At this age, after 6 decades of living, there is a much broader perspective available to me. I am much more conscious of identity, how it is shaped, how it changes over time, how it impacts our emotional state. How we will fight the changes that life brings us, sometimes even changes we are welcoming. We will feel grief moving from one sense of identity to another, even as many identities overlap.

We can fully inhabit each next stage of who we are by embracing it all, absorbing it all – and I mean all of it – the joyful, the devastating, the normal or mundane and everything in between. Many things and emotions can co-exist and be true at the same time. I can enjoy how a day turned out while being sad it didn’t turn out the way we planned. This past Christmas Eve and Day is a good example. Our social plans changed thanks to a cold – and I felt very sad about not being able to visit with friends as planned, not having a turkey dinner (and not making one for the first time in 40 years – and yes, this is a part of an identity shift too) to settle into a beautiful, lazy day with Jerry where we watched movies and warmed up leftovers for each meal. It was a day we enjoyed and fully inhabited. Sad and joyful at the same time.

I have experienced much in my sixty years, achieved a lot, struggled a lot, lost people (and pets) who are dear to me still – my mother and father being chief among them. And it is not just death that changes the nature of relationship. People we connect with deeply in one capacity or another, one job or another, on one project or another often no longer take up the same space in our life when one or the other moves on, the job changes or the project ends. Or guardian angels who show up, literally out of nowhere, in just the right moment when you most need the guidance, support and hope they offer. I have experienced several of these people in critical moments of my life. When the moment passes, the nature of the relationship changes and they recede into the background or completely disappear. No rhyme or reason. Not because we don’t want to stay connected but because priorities and attention shifts, as it needs to. And I wonder, what hopes, griefs, disappointments, cherished moments do I carry that I never talk about, but which sometimes overwhelm me with great intensity.

I feel all the losses. Like we all do. We continue to carry all these people with us – those still living and those who have passed on – in our hearts and in our memories. They all shape who we become. You cannot get through any part of life without having these experiences and for sure you cannot get to 60 without having many of them.

Often, we cannot repay others for what they offered us in life saving moments. But we can pay it forward. I think of that now in some of the relationships I tend to – paying forward not just gifts of support to me, but gifts of support to others – my dad being a good example. The people who showed up to support him who thus supported me and my brother – when we needed it most, I can never repay them directly.  

I am deeply excited for this next part of my life – my third third. A study shared in the American Elder offers that the most productive decade in a person’s life is from 60-70. The second most productive decade is 70-80 years old. As the momentum builds for Worldview Intelligence, the company Jerry and I have been building for almost a decade, this is promising and exciting news. We have been told our work and approach is much needed in this time in the world. It can be transformational for individuals and organizations. We have a BIG vision for the work we do. We anticipate gaining momentum over the next few years. We are learning so much that our creativity is ramping up. We are doing things we would not have even begun to think of a couple of years ago that makes our work more impactful and powerful.

Me and my partner in crime… I mean life and work

I am embracing it all. The work. A growing family. Deepening relationships with my own family, with Jerry and his family. More travel. More touching lives in small and big ways.

A Few Lessons Along the Way

There are some key lessons I have learned in these decades of life. A few of them follow.

  1. Don’t ever lose sight of who you are. But when you do (because you will) find your way back to core essence of who you are (and you will). Don’t let anyone hold you back from being the person you are meant to be. I was once told, when I was a lot younger and building my career, that my laugh was unprofessional – by a female colleague. It was crushing, until it wasn’t anymore. My spirit wanted and needed to express and this is one way that happens.
  2. Even as identity shifts and changes, even as we change over the years and experiences, some core essence of who we are remains the same. Connect to that essence – over and over again.
  3. Remember you are love. Love more, including yourself. Take care of the people you love.
  4. Mind what you say – do more reflecting and less reacting. Think about your motives for speaking your mind. If you recognize you have been hurt in some way, work through that first, then consider what you want to say. Sometimes you may say less, sometimes you may say more.
  5. Hold space for yourself and others. Tune into what is needed in that space and why you may or may not want or need to express yourself. But, less is often more. Speaking from my own experience here.
  6. Boundaries are important – essential to acting with integrity, to not being taken advantage of, to clarity of who and what is important.  They are not meant to be rigid walls – we only keep ourselves confined when this happens. They are meant to signal when certain harmful behaviours and people are not welcome.
  7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. So many times in a relationship with a lot of conflict I used to ask myself, how important is this anyway? How important will it be in an hour from now? A day? A month? Years from now? Don’t let those irritants erode important relationships, while learning how to decipher between an irritant and a boundary violation.
  8. Be curious more. Judge less. So easy to fall into judgment about other people, their choices in life and so hard to remember that we do not know all of what is true in their lives or their circumstances. Extend love as often as possible. It is a game changer.
  9. Do what brings you joy. Laugh a lot. Dance. Sing. Move anyway that feels good. Get outside. Enjoy the weather – all of it.
  10. Live life to the fullest you know how. Then stretch a little. And a little more. Embrace it all and embrace all of who you are.

Happy 2022. Bring it on. I am ready for all this next decade will bring my way.

The Anniversary of Dad’s Passing and The Year that Disappeared

One year ago today I got the call from a resident at the hospital saying that dad had had a restless night, his oxygen was low, they had moved him to a private room and I should get there as soon as possible. I notified my children, my brother and my partner. I got in the car and the tears streamed down my face the whole drive to the hospital. This was the moment we had anticipated, literally for years. I have written before that dad tiptoed up to the edge of death many times, looked over, shook his head and said, “No, not yet.”

This time, there was no going back. He (and I) could not envision how he was going to continue to live at home with any semblance of satisfaction. He couldn’t go to his workshop in the garage. He couldn’t go down the stairs to where he worked on his Bluefin Model. He had so many health issues over the decades. His pacemaker and many medications were keeping him alive as long as his will to live prevailed.

It’s been a strange year. The year of the pandemic and shut down where time disappeared in a vortex. I carry the memory of clearing out his house during the months of March and April, of feeling that his guidance was in every part of what happened. The stories of people and connections that have carried on beyond those days, new life long relationships forged.

My dad comes to me in dreams every week, often several times a week. My mother often comes with him, which was not so much the case before he died. I think perhaps she was with him more often then and they are together now.

I feel his absence during the storms when we would check in with each other to see how things were and what was being taken care of. I could imagine how difficult this pandemic and US politics would be for him to comprehend. When I have traveled, I imagine his concerns for my travel and his relief when I am back home.

There are moments when grief overwhelms me, the tears flow just as they did that morning, a year ago, when I drove to the hospital. Not because I wish he was here now but because of the great, unexpected love that was between us. I was his person. The time I spent with him has been filled in other ways. His and mom’s presence are in my house along with the few items of theirs I have incorporated into my home. I carry them everywhere in heart and soul.

This morning, I lit dad’s candle in front of Mother Mary with a candle and matches from his house. I lit another candle for my mom. I put out coffee with Bailley’s in cups from dad’s house for them both and Jerry and I drank a toast to the two of them. In my mind’s eye, I see them as they might have been when they met in the late 50s – young, beautiful, slim, in love; wearing the clothes of the era. With spiked coffee and mom smoking a cigarette. Dad was an avid smoker until he quit in the 70s to save his life. In my vision, he is not smoking even though it is from a time when he would have been smoking. My mother was a social smoker. She would have a cigarette with her coffee, when a friend dropped by for tea or with a drink, at a party. She pretty much quit when dad did but in this vision she is smoking a cigarette, laughing and joyful. Trust the symbols that appear.

Their impact on me and my life is indelibly imprinted on my heart and soul. I will forever cherish all my relationships in my lineage and it will always influence the relationships I want to nurture with my children, their partners and extended families, my own grandchildren and my partner.

Smiling this morning, along with the tears.

Love Never Fails

I woke up recently with 1 Corinthians 13 in my mind, likely prompted by a compulsion I feel to compile my writing on love into a little book about love – Embracing Love: An Openhearted Practice. A common reading at weddings, this verse holds a promise and a commitment.

Yet, too often, it is just words. Words read but not taken in, not lived. There is such power in these words that, if they were lived, there might be more compassion and less harm, in us, our relationships and the world around us.

For many, the promises of love fade as life is lived. Too many hardships. Too many hurts. Too much despair. Too much trauma. Grudges held. Forgiveness demanded but not given or offered. Heartbreaks. Grief. We break. Our humanity breaks. We lose our way. We forget.

We forget that love is not sustained through a promise. Love needs to be a practice. Without the practice of love, the promise is meaningless. It feels like love fails, but maybe it is humanity failing love.

In his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah says, “Love is a creative act. When you love someone, you create a new world for them.”  He was talking about his relationship with his mother. “My mother did that for me and with the progress I made and the things I learned, I came back and created a new world and new understanding for her.”

Thus, love is generative. It is a life force that shows up in so many shapes, forms and degrees that no single definition of love will suffice. Love is at the core of who we are as human beings although it is often obscured by shadow as I wrote about in my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. We are all a little bit broken. It is part of the human journey.

Imagine if we remembered we are love. Imagine if we emanated that love out to all those in our circles of love and beyond. Imagine if we took these words in – love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy or boast; it does not dishonour others – and brought them alive, let them live in and through us. It would change us. It would change the world around us.

Love would be a bold, courageous, radical, creative act.