Looking Ahead

Tell me your resolutions about yourself and I’ll tell you your age.

If you’re full of plans for self-improvement and mastery — primo fitness! fluency in Spanish! writing a book a year! — you’re a lot younger than I am.

If you’re planning a much more modest future — say, hanging on to what you’ve got and not losing it any faster than you have to — you’re probably about my age.

It’s a funny time, this point in life. After all those years when you whipped yourself into a lather over what you could be if you only tried harder, pushed yourself more, didn’t need to sleep much — after all that, you stop and look around and reconsider.

The world has changed — or maybe it’s just you. Something’s leaving, moving on, sifting through your fingertips like fine-grained sand. Has that always been true and you’ve simply been too busy notice?

“How did we get to be 64?” my husband asked me recently. We were sitting on our couch, ready to fire up the TV and watch “Justified” or “Sherlock Holmes,” since we’d already hurtled through “House of Cards” (both American and British versions) and were looking for a little diversion.

But — wait. How did we get to be 64? The question surprised me. On my own, I’d been continually puzzled by another question — how on earth has it gotten to be 2014? But, when you got down to it, they were really the same question: Where did the time go?

There’s no single, simple, satisfying answer. It’s a long glissando of moments and fragments and memories unspooling behind us. Where did the time go? It went to sleep and meals and talk and camaraderie and solitude, it left us relentlessly, whether we spent it well or mindlessly. It simply disappeared on us. Look over your shoulder and see it receding in the distance.

But don’t look over your shoulder too long or you miss what’s coming. What to do with it — with what’s left to us — when dreams aren’t as grandiose? I don’t have the same goals as I had when I was young and always wanted something more, always wanted to be better and more accomplished.

Now, as I try to steady myself and understand my limitations, I think, why not try to grow my heart bigger and deeper? Why not increase my compassion, my capacity to love?

Again, I didn’t make resolutions like that when I was younger. Oh, hell. It’s just like everything else in life. You never really grow up until you have to.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about Turning Up the Volume

11 comments… add one
  • I like this:
    I think, why not try to grow my heart bigger and deeper? Why not increase my compassion, my capacity to love?
    Those are words to live by.

  • I think, why not try to grow my heart bigger and deeper? Why not increase my compassion, my capacity to love?

    Of course, of course. I thought of exactly this on Saturday when I called my 96-year-old-mother-in-law and we had the best, most connected conversation we’ve ever had since I married her son four years ago. I have these new in-laws and a new grandson to hug and kiss and say “I love you” to all the time and I know, “This is IT.”

  • This post really spoke to me, 67 in one week.

  • beautiful!

  • So much wisdom you’ve offered in so few words, Ruth. It seems to me that life is often about asking good questions, and improving the quality of those questions as the years go on. And living with the idea that answers may not come quickly — or at all.

  • I never cease to be delighted when I see your postings as I know in some way my life will be just a bit more enlightened. Thank you for each and every one of them.

  • This part hits home for me after 5 years of non-stop losses in our family: “… it left us relentlessly, whether we spent it well or mindlessly.”

  • Cindy A Link

    Once again, you have struck me through the heart. How did I go from trying so hard to meet everyone’s expectations to feeling light and free and expectation-free? Maybe in the last third of our lives, we just don’t give a shit about what is expected – it’s the truth we care about….

  • bonehead Link

    Good one Ruth. Wouldn’t it be great if we were taught this from the git-go, instead of coming to it as an insight in our golden years. Count yourself lucky to have the peek at an alternative way of living a life. I would suggest the majority of people in the US don’t have that thought, and if they do, they dismiss it as foolish or not practical in a world where you have to squash all competitors and become #1, else you fell short of all you could have been… what a bunch of bs. Children should be taught to strive and compete with compassion, they are not mutually exclusive ideas… gee was this good timing, I just finished Aldous Huxley’s last novel, Island. He wrote it in 1962 and died in 1963, about the time we were just getting going good in our lives.

  • Chris Link

    I read this post multiple times; it pulled me right in, taking the jumble of disorganized thoughts in my head and making some sense of them. This was a beautifully written piece. BTW, I am in your age group.

  • I try to emulate what my hero Doris Day has always said – keep looking forward, don’t spend too much time mired in the past.

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