It’s autumn. It’s the autumn of my life, and that cliché is falling upon me like a ton of dead leaves.
On the yearly calendar, it’s the very beginning of autumn. The trees are overwhelmingly green. As I type this, sitting on the deck, I’m wishing I wore shorts instead of jeans. But time moves fast: When I began writing this, our autumn sedum was light pink. Just two days later, it is approaching the deep red it will soon become.
On the calendar of my life, I am deep into the third season. That doesn’t sound right, but I can’t dispute the numbers.
If I hope to live to 80, I’ve got a little over two years remaining in this third quarter. If I hope for 90 — after all, my mother’s parents both made it that far — my final quarter is about a decade away. That sounds better. Even so, I’m more than halfway through Q3. And a lifespan of 90 is ambitious. “Four score years, if granted the vigor,” in the words of Psalm 90.
Listening the other day to Rabbi Yael Levy talk about the Torah portion of Nitzavim, in which the Israelites stand before God with all their generations, including those past and yet to come, I felt for the first time more identified with the past than with the future. She spoke of those who will call us ancestors. While that’s hard to get my mind around — especially as I am burrowing so deeply into my own ancestry — the thought of becoming a past generation hit me powerfully.
It’s producing a lot of anxiety. So much to do, so little time/energy/focus to do it. The to-do list is endless, particularly tasks related to my health care. But I’m even more anxious about the long list of projects I want to do. For the first time in my life, I feel as though my ambitions might be larger than my horizons.
Four years ago when I quit my job, I couldn’t name those ambitions. I said then that if someone told me to write a description of my dream job, I couldn’t do it. Now I could. That’s a huge step forward, and I need to be grateful. I have regained my passion for research and writing, two of the pursuits most central to being myself and feeling like myself.
At the same time, I am sharply aware of my limitations. It looks as though I have gobs of time, but it never feels that way. I have to keep reminding my inner critic that self-care is a real job for me — maybe no longer a full-time job, but real nonetheless. That is a major limit on my time and also on my ability to focus on loving what I love, in the words of the Mary Oliver poem that inspired this blog.
And then there’s aging. When the one-two punch of Lyme disease and my father’s sudden death knocked me down, I was 50 years old. Not exactly what most people think of as the prime of life, but in many ways I felt at the top of my game. Physically, I felt fit and strong. I felt that way mentally and emotionally as well.
Losing my father and my health unmasked some deeply rooted fears that I had been trying to ignore for decades. Facing those fears has been an ongoing part of my recovery, and in some ways I’m now emotionally stronger and healthier.
But it still is true that in 2012, before that one-two punch, I was reaping the benefits of 50 years’ experience, growth, and learning. I felt far wiser and more mature than ever before. That confidence and satisfaction with my life stage imploded along with my health and abilities.
And now I’m seven years down the road. Even with the full recovery I hope for, I will never feel 50 again. Alongside the toll of Lyme stands the toll of time.
It’s the Jewish new year. According to the ancient calendar, it’s 5780. According to that calendar, it’s a season of return, of awe, and of renewal. Here from the heart of my Q3, I wish a year of peace, health, and love to all who read this, and to the whole world.
What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.