Aging (dis)gracefully

OK, so I can’t lay claim to that phrase since I’ve seen it many times before but damn, I LIKE it!happy Zo

Let me explain what it means in my life…

I am 65 years old. If you told me 35 years ago that I would live this long I would have taken bets against myself. Hell, if you told me that 15 years ago I would have bet against me! But things changed…I changed…

I have never been one to follow the path that others have laid out for me; that has been both fortuitous and foolish. Frankly I think the key point that pushed it in a positive or negative direction had to do with whether I was moving towards something or away from it

When I was a boy I was expected to become a Catholic priest; it was all my family talked about for years! I actually did enter the prep seminary at high school age and spent 4 years there, lying for 4 years about becoming a priest until it came time to apply to the major seminary and I bolted…literally! There were many reasons I did not want that life, some hormonal (I was a  red-blooded teen-age boy!), others deeply emotional and visceral (I’ll not get into that here but if you read my blog posts in “One Man’s Stories” you’ll understand) and still others simply to assert myself as “my own man”.  Long story short – I left home at 17, and closed that door firmly behind me.

Over the next several decades I went on a wild and loopy ride of a lifetime! At one time or another people paid me to do some cool things, some crazy things, yeah, and some illegal things which I will NOT be copping to here. I’ve been (for varying amounts of time) a carny, a house painter, a roofer, a bouncer, a data entry clerk/keypunch operator, a computer programmer, a chef, an artist’s model, a teacher, a consultant, a personal trainer, a dance instructor, a wellness coach.  probably forgot a bunch of things or I’m not admitting them publicly).

Hmmm, I just realized that my roles became far more civilized as I got older! I became far more civilized, come to think of it. Maybe I became a bit too domesticated as well…

As I passed the tipping point of middle age  – let’s face it, with 50 waaaaaay behind me, I can’t be called middle age any more. I once asked someone what follows “middle-aged” and the response was “old”, so there you go – I realized that I had spent the majority of my life trying to live for so many other people I kind of forgot to live for myself. I started to become more self-ish (yes, other people at times viewed it as selfish). What I mean is, looking for ways to be more genuinely who I felt I was, rather than what others expected me to be.

I gave up on the corporate gigs that demanded as much of my soul as they did of my mind. I worked only with people who truly wanted to make a difference in their lives. I refused to corroborate or be complicit with scams and schemes which could have made me quite a lot of money but would have robbed me of my integrity.

Finally, I chose to take back my time, my most precious resource, the one thing I couldn’t buy, manufacture, or mystically create for myself. I chose to retire, despite the doubts and head-shaking, the dire predictions of loss.

You know what? I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.

I  discovered that despite having so much in my life that others would relish, I was nearly bankrupt in ways that were crucial to my very spirit – I had few friends, few connections that were not related to one job or another I’d held, and the flimsiest veil of a spiritual life that certainly could not warm me or sustain me.

I had lost touch with a huge part of myself as a human being by hanging on for dear life to my persona as a “human doing”.  My retirement was a way of allowing myself to focus on being, not doing!

With no one to tell me I had to dress a specific way, wear my hair a specific way, read the “right” books, what have you, I have started to re-re-re-re-re-define myself but this time FOR myself!

I am tatted up, I have a long white beard, I wear whatever suits my mood. I am ostracized by many for how I look, looked down upon by others for my “lack of direction”, ignored as frivolous at best or inconsequential at worst. You know what? F**K ’em. I’m starting to feel like me!

I’ve read so many books on how to navigate this time of my life (my golden years!) but I realized I don’t care to have a plan right now. I don’t need a quest. You want to know what my vision statement is? “Be genuine”. That’s it, the whole thing.

I have a ways to go to fulfill that, I know, but I feel that I am truly working towards that state. At times I fear that I waited far too long to do this and I will likely die before I even come close.

There is a quote by Mary Anne Radmacher I keep on my desk and read every day that sustains me when I am most fearful, most vulnerable:

“Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.'”

As long as I stay true to myself, give it all I have to give – no matter how infinitessimally small that might be on any given day – I’m on the right track.

I’ll get there…maybe today…maybe tomorrow…I will not stop being me!

Hope you’re OK with that…because I am!!

 

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