We Are Only As Old As We Let Ourselves Be
By Stephen Huyler
We are only as old as we let ourselves be.
I was eighteen when Beatrice Wood befriended me. She was seventy-seven but seemed ageless. Whenever she looked in a mirror, she said, she was surprised to find she was no longer a girl. Although Beatrice had always been an artist, she began her most productive period in her early 80’s. The growing popularity of her art stimulated her to push her creative limits. I found both her art and her mind dazzling.
As I’ve aged into my eighth decade, physical limitations confound my abilities to make choices I’ve always taken for granted. It’s hard to get comfortable when I sleep. I forget and squat or kneel and then have no idea how I’m going to get up again. For decades, I thought nothing of running along a boulder-strewn Maine cove leaping from rock to rock, exhilarated by the pure joy of movement. Now I’m careful where I put each foot. Mobility without concern is no longer an option.
And yet, as those chapters have closed, others are being written. Limitations in one sphere open new horizons. I’ve learned from Beatrice and many others that the choices are up to me. If I want to make a change, I still can.
Many elders remain vivacious despite life’s challenges, perhaps even because of them. Lois began knitting in her eighties and, although her arthritic fingers often slow her down, she enjoys creating sweaters, shawls, and socks for all her neighbors in her retirement community. John was a CPA for years priding himself in the clarity of his accounts and navigating the tax system for his clients. Now he’s uplifted daily by drawing intricate landscapes of the tree-scaped islands out past his town. Prem became a radio DJ in college and early in her married life. However, raising a family required that she choose a higher paying job decades ago. Now in her late 70’s, she’s been asked to run her own public radio program. Prem plans her music all week, looking forward to sharing her favorite tunes and compositions with a broad, appreciative audience.
When Beatrice was ninety-four, she commented: “I get mad because everyone who comes here says: ‘Are you still working?’ Of course, I am! — and I will work until I am not able to. I’m always full of ideas. …I tell you what I’ve noticed, (my creativity) bubbles up when I get up and do things — and then when I’m finished, I think: ‘Goodness, I haven’t an idea in my mind!’ I’m quiet and up it goes again. This is the way I think life is — in rhythms…”
When she died at 105, Beatrice had just finished creating a new set of vessels, while a selection of newly glazed pottery was cooling in her kiln. She remained vital until she dropped.
Being asked to write this column was a delightful surprise: an entirely new and different adventure for me.
What about you?