Monday, August 22, 2011
The Reward of Healthy Aging
These are my hens in a photo taken last April in the afternoon of my backyard chicken workshop by Sarah Cress. They look very clean then, a little more bedraggled now as the summer wears down, but as raucous as ever when I'm picking figs. they get the spoiled and bird-pecked ones.
THE REWARD OF HEALTHY AGING
I realized this weekend that I’m more attuned than ever before to my past, my present, and my future. It’s a curious sense. As if past, present, and future were somehow blended in me now. I don’t feel there is any hurry, in one way, to do the work I need to do, and yet each day I feel I must keep to the plan for each day and do the chores I’ve noted down as urgent. If I don’t mow now, it may rain again, and I’ll be back where I was, having to wait for it to dry out. Or if I don’t pick the vegetables and make the stews for the winter, I’ll be wasting time and money, which are closely connected for me.
I don’t want to have to earn money to buy food–beyond the minimum–so, by growing and preserving food, though it takes time now, I "earn" both good food and time later, when I want to have as much time as possible to write and publish my books.
Will people want to know about me after I die? It’s hard to believe, but I think they will. Am I about to start living with that consciousness, too, now? Maybe.
Bach’s cantata this Sunday morning is about getting ready for Judgment Day. ["Give an Account of Yourself. Word of Thunder."] It’s vigorous, joyful. I guess, in my own way, that’s what I’m doing–getting ready so that, when I or anyone else looks back on my life, they can see that I did my work, fulfilled my purpose in life as I saw it. There will be people who misunderstand, who don’t "get it." But my own opinion of myself and my accomplishments is what I count on. A few others will "see." I hope to get enough books published to have a small, interested audience, which will slowly increase, even after I die, or maybe especially after I die.
When I look at all I do in one day, how I move, with relative ease, from my writing to the farm and preserving work, I feel grateful that I can manage so much.
When I think back on my life, all my passions, to love and to care for other people, to put other people’s work into print, a basically kind and pleasant personality, but determined, and as Daphne Athas said, "indefatigable." Not giving up easily on people I loved or projects I thought were important, though learning not to let people manipulate me and letting go when it felt time to let go, of people, of projects. I got the Roadmap classes funded between 1981 and 1990, kept Carolina Wren Press afloat, threw myself into Russian projects and visits. My life is relaxed and calm now, comparatively. Now the passion goes into my writing and growing food to sustain that. I’m glad for all that is behind me, my past. I carry it lightly now, but all that I learned from that voyage in the world I must tell now, find words and forms to tell it.
Is it presumptuous to think people will want to know all about me and read my books when I’m gone? I don’t think so. Does it change anything if I assume this? In some ways I already have assumed this. In my will I said I wanted to have this house turned into a museum. That was outrageous on the face of it. But this goes farther. I think now I can be a model of a life well-lived, as well as carefully recorded and documented in all my writings.
Not a perfect life. I have my weaknesses, errors, my blind spots, but a life worth emulating. How to live well and happily and feel that you are living the exactly right life for you, the life that fits you like a glove, that feels like it was "meant to be." You feel you have a purpose, and you’re living it out to the best of your ability. Doing your work, being honest in your relationships, loving, forgiving, where that is possible, keeping your inner eye clear. I do see better than ever, both myself and other people, and I’m still learning. Interruptions and surprising turns still come, and I cope. Fortunately I have coped so far with both my body’s problems and new emotional challenges that come along.
I think sometimes about how my neighbors have and still do help me. Tuddy, with his mowing, Robert, taking care of my machines, like the mower, and they and Emma also seeing to the hens when I have to be away. Many other people help me in myriad ways. I am pretty independent, but not wholly so. But that, too, is very much part of how I live my life.
I think it took me this long, seventy-four years, even to get this glimmer. I’ve had other glimmers before, of course, but this one is truly a reward for aging well. The result of these new insights, or renewed insights, is that I can conceive my life as a whole better now and see the threads running through it, the strands of meaning woven together.
A knot is tied, or maybe a braid of all the various activities and projects, loves, children, books, poems, garden, animals, chickens–all of it. It’s me and my context, my place in the scheme of things, my part in the universal order. Not that I know the details, but I sense my place better, or more of what has been in me from the beginning has risen up so that I’m more fully conscious of it.
My basic plan isn’t changing. It feels like what I’m doing now is what I need to be doing. It’s getting reinforced though with a stronger sense that I’m on the right track and that it all counts–everything. I go on being who I am, the writer and the human being I am, with my struggles and coping, when they come, and my simple enjoyment of the food I grow, cook, preserve, and share.
It’s reasonable for me to be less active in the community and see fewer people, have less social life, write more, give the farm more attention, be more whimsical. I’ve adapted in these months to having so much time alone. I think I can keep my morale up now, and keep doing the work, and I think I’ll be able to do it and even finish it before I die.
From Judy’s journal entries of August 20-21, 2011.