Maggie Smith, interviewed on 60 Minutes, was asked how she felt about growing old.
“I don't like it.” And her old age as a key player in Downton Abbey, is hardly run of the mill. So I asked my husband how he felt.
“I feel I have at last found whiite space.” Living right brain, rather than left. Allowing lost parts to put up shoots, new skills to appear. Working life had been corseted by priorities, lists, “shoulds”. Now, in white space, the interests and creativity that had been pushed out of sight – not enough time – are freed. Time to stop and stare – clouds drifting in ths sky.
I think it was Jung who said that the first half of life is action; the second contemplation. So, in turn, I asked myself how I feel. Really, inside myself. Not what we are conditioned to feel by society, not the old wives' bogeymen tales, but, with all that static noise removed, how do I feel?
Actually, pretty good – happier than ever before in my life. There's a peace, a lack of competition, a smoothing of rough edges that makes life clear, loving, warm and relaxed. The knowledge that the party will end makes each moment sweeter.
I am so lucky, oddly, that chronic pain has stripped away extraneous emotions. What was youth? It was incredibly alive, aflame with love, terrified, unsure – yes, that was then. We process life so immediately, but conversely, there's so much clutter: we run round like chickens with our heads cut off. We dash and dart at life, cram so much in and, with young kids, feel as if our heads are stuffed with cactus. I felt so much, so intensely – as if on a merry-go-round. Days would pass so full of activity that inside I was a blur.
My husband once asked me what I wanted to be able to say about my life, and unhesitatingly I said, “I want to understand what makes us human” – to know joy and despair, to get a glimpse, though pathetically small, of what it is to be human. Living to me is not what you do, but who you are. Any moment is real, not because I am, God forbid, on a roller coaster or deep sea diving, but because of the feeling of wholeness and connection to something so magnificent and vast, that I am just one stitch in its tapestry, one note in the song.
Perhaps that's why some of my best moments have been pegging laundry on the line, beneath a wide sky and apple trees, with lazy butterflies and birdsong. Doing something simple and grounded that women have done through the ages.
After the tumult of youth, comes tranquility. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians)