Being Positively Youthful

This blog seems to have temporarily turned into a confessional.  I’m not sure why.  Something about that persistent cough, and a need to get things off my chest?

In her comment a couple of weeks ago, Karen McFarland told me that a cough, in Chinese medicine, indicates grief.  Her question, “Are you grieving about something?” touched a nerve.

But what am I grieving?  A small dog?

Well, yes, but the cough began before that.   A few months before my 35th birthday when, looking in the mirror, I saw lines I hadn’t seen before.

Lines that sneered… Whatever did you do with your youth?

Luckily, right now, there’s no time to dwell on that question, because Ms and I have an appointment to interview a woman 40 years my senior…

Margaret welcomes us to her home and introduces the dancing Pomeranian, Beau, and more elderly Shih Tzu, Pugsley.

We exchange small talk, and she blithely dismisses the question of marriage.

“Oh, no…I was much too busy for all that.”  As the interview proceeds, we start to understand why.

In the 1970s and 80s, Margaret worked as an ambulance driver for the local animal hospital.  In that time, she saw more death, disease and neglect of animals than most of us will ever see.  Over the years, she has personally given 38 stray cats and dogs a home and a second chance at life.

MargAmbo

She travelled.  And worked three jobs to pay off a house since, back then, the banks refused single women loans.

She has the hearty laugh of a woman half her age, and more energy than I do, judging by her exercise regime.

A walk and a swim every morning down at the beach, aqua aerobics at least twice a week – and she cooks!

“I’m always trying new recipes,” she says, and as soon as the interview is over, the table is laden with cheese, crackers and a delicious avocado dip.

“Wine?” she offers, a little cheekily, when the most we might have expected was a cup of tea.

As the wine flows, and afternoon tea becomes dinner at the pub, she reveals another side.

She speaks about her close ‘friend’, with whom she’s shared her life and home for 38 years.

A woman whom she has nursed through Alzheimer’s, and only recently moved into a nursing home.

She proceeds to tell stories of life in Melbourne when it was illegal to be gay…

Slowly, in one afternoon, Margaret manages to blow my mind of every preconceived idea of age.

I realise, I am not only sitting with an elderly woman who is positively youthful.  I am sitting with a role model.

Margaret

One of a generation of people, my elders, caught between periods of social change, and invisible to those of us now walking in their shoes.

Invisible, that is, until this moment.

We ask her if she worries, being alone at her age, no family…

“You know, I don’t believe in worrying about
things you can’t control.
You just have to live your life, and enjoy each day.
I have no regrets.”

Driving home, I’m quiet.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my new friend it is this: age is no barrier.  And to grieve the loss of youth at 35 is more than just a little premature.

Do you worry about getting older? What do you do to stay young?

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t worry about getting older, but it startles me to see my mother look back at me from the mirror. My youngest sister says I have our mother’s voice and mannerisms. The mannerisms part is true and astonishes me because I’ve lived 1,500 miles from my mother for more than thirty years. There’s so much in life we can’t control.

    Margaret is a wonderful role model. In the current-day photo, she is luminous, and I have to think attitude, fulfilling work, and meaningful relationships do more for a person’s looks than Botox and plastic surgery.

    • says

      ‘Luminous’ – yes! Inside to out (way better than Botox, for sure!) 🙂

      How fascinating that you are so like your mother, despite the distance. Like some sort of code that gets written in the bones. I’m quite like my mother in many ways, too – sometimes I hear her voice or a phrase, and it’s quite alarming!!

  2. Andrea says

    My dearest Rose, I do not worry about young or old. I was so touched by this writing of yours. I can’t believe being gay or anything that you are as a person could be illegal. But I guess fear can do a lot of wrong.

    Your 35 years is just slightly above mine of 26, yet I feel you to be the person of your words, your dreams and your passion. I grieve for Pepi and I was never privileged to have spent time with him, but through your words, I feel him with me… I have a tear in my eye now, and I am grateful.
    With nothing but Love… I thank you once again.

    • says

      Dear Andrea… Fear has to be the most damaging thing of all. Fear and worry. Not that I’m an expert at letting go of either…

      Pepi’s spirit will always be here, infused in the writing. He’s another one who was positively youthful. My new aim is agelessness 😉

      Thank you for your thoughtfulness, your love, and for taking the time to read. xx

  3. says

    My goodness, what a gorgeous smile. She reminds me of my husband’s grandmother, still going strong at 94 and only recently moved in with her daughter. Before that, she and her husband lived in a tiny double-wide on a lot in Dolan Springs, Arizona. Hotter than hell in the summertime and not a tree in sight, but she kept the dirt in her front yard swept clean every month of the year—literally. With a broom.

    I mostly don’t worry. The things I’m losing as I get older are nothing compared to what I have gained.

    • says

      That’s some dedicated sweeping… and at 94? Impressive. You always paint such delightful pictures in your comments 🙂

      And now that you mention it, I’m wondering why we don’t hear more about the things we gain with age?

  4. says

    Wow, this is a powerful post, Alarna. I worry about not accomplishing all I want to in this lifetime, so in that sense I sometimes get frustrated about getting older.

    However, I always remind myself that in my youth I was immature, inattentive, a partier, angry. I needed to get older before I could clearly see my destination, and all the stops along the way.

    Sometimes, for some of us, getting older is a gift. Because we are much more in tune with ourselves, others around us, and the meaning of life. We can be sure we will make the most out of what is given to us.

    • says

      You’ve summed up the conflict very well here, Kate. Sometimes I feel like I spend a lot of time wishing I had the knowledge I now have, at least 10 years earlier. But that’s why it’s called a journey, I guess… We take the lessons with us.

  5. says

    This was beautiful Alarna and very inspiring indeed. You know what’s funny? Yesterday I was watching the Ellen Degeneres Show and she was doing a birthday special so I told myself I can’t record it and watch it later, I must watch it now–in the moment! Ellen had a few guests on her show and amongst them was this 105 year old woman! She too, said that the secret to her happiness and energy is to not be bothered by things you can not change. The elders have wise words and it’s refreshing to stop once in a while and listen to their wise words. Margaret is indeed a role model–she was so brave to be the woman she wanted to be during that time period.

    By the way I have an award for you! http://benawhat.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/my-very-first-blog-award-thank-you/ Congratulations.

    • says

      Wow, what incredible synchronicity with the Ellen show! 105! Unbelievable. Yes, I didn’t realise until I was sitting there listening to Margaret how few respected elders I have in my life. That kind of wisdom is priceless 🙂

      Lovely to hear from you, Bena – and thanks so much for the award nomination!

  6. says

    Wow….what a great story!! She sounds like an amazing woman…and she popped into your life at the perfect moment!! Kim

  7. says

    a beautiful story sister. When we really see each other we see the soul only… the ageless being. You are a seer my friend a gift only a wise one can hold. Bless you!

  8. says

    Your fine new friend is a testament to aging gracefully, and staying young and grounded underneath it all. I enjoyed her story; I hope you will tell her we did!

    I’ve never been afraid of grey hair or wrinkles. I actually occasionally long for them, and I celebrate every white hair I get. I suppose I don’t enjoy attention over my appearance, and I would guess that I’m average, but I do hate the judgment, one way or another. I HAVE become afraid of losing my teeth (hurray for dental care!) and aching joints will be the most discomfiting of all, but I’m already living with those, and while they’re an obstacle, they won’t stop me. I suppose the best route is to keep going and cultivate our inner selves. I hope that when I am old people will say that I am cheerful and enjoyable to talk to, and that I have many interests and hobbies, perhaps even that I’ve done interesting things. That, above all, is what I’m striving for.

    • says

      I will definitely be passing on a copy of this blog – and the comments – to Margaret. She’d be touched by everyone’s words, I am sure 🙂

      Some people say the best thing about old age is being ‘invisible’ – not getting the kind of positive or negative attention we get for our looks when we’re younger. I guess there’s many ways of looking at it.

      You already sound like you have a great attitude, so cheers to ageing youthfully 😉

  9. says

    what an inspiring story Alarna… and also uplifting that you saw what you did in that wonderful; soul..
    And talking of age,.I sometimes think that age is in the eyes of the beholder, for I think few of us feel as old as our age!

    • says

      You are another beautiful young soul, Valerie! Definitely the body tells lies about age… But I do believe the ‘inner’ age shows through.

      Someone once said to me that people have a mental ‘age’ they exist at – no matter what physical age they are. I think there’s some truth to that… The idea fascinates me, anyway.

  10. Rita Azar says

    What a beautiful story! This last quote is great! I know I still have plenty of time to realise things I want but I have the feeling, sometime, that time is slipping in my hand.
    You are an amazing writer Alarna.

  11. says

    I don’t worry about the age, it’s keeping up with health issues so I can enjoy my time. The control thing is huge for me though. I think the majority of the time I get “stuck” it’s because of things I can’t control. I have to remind myself of this regularly. But right now I’m going to watch your video of the dogs again. That SO made me smile. 🙂

    • says

      You do an amazing job to keep your good spirits, Coleen – you’re an inspiration to me, and no one could blame you for stamping your foot occasionally!

      Little Beau in that video vehemently objected to the camera, which was out of his control!! He’s adorable 🙂

  12. says

    What a lovely woman and story. Look at her face! That’s what they call glowing, right?

    I am not kidding you, Alarna, I feel much happier now than I did when I was in my 20s. Much more powerful, beautiful, capable, and loving. I was pretty cute back then but now I have gray hair like my mother and stretch marks from my daughters and lines when I smile. I’d never trade back.

    I think the trick is to spend your time doing what’s important to you. If you do that, then the time is well spent rather than taken from you.

    • says

      She is glowing, isn’t she? 🙂

      It’s true, now that you mention it. I do feel much happier and more confident now than I did in my 20s. And I love the way, how you’ve described, that our histories come to be written on our bodies. There’s a different kind of beauty in that – I bet you’re even cuter now 😉

      Perhaps I wouldn’t trade back, after all…

  13. says

    What an amazing story! I love the way you peeled back the layers of Margaret’s story in the course of an afternoon and evening. I want to be every bit as passionate and determined and engaged in life as she!

    I celebrated my 47th birthday on the weekend. I think it’s all about attitude. As long as we continue to open ourselves to experience, to engage, and to find things which we are passionate about, I think we can stay young a long time 🙂

    • says

      It was certainly a revelation to me, too – the layers of Margaret’s story.

      I’m a big admirer of the way you go about savouring moments in your life, Sally. And, for what it’s worth, I’d never pick you for 47. Then again, what do those numbers mean anymore?

      • says

        Thank you! It’s funny how blogging helps keep me focussed on savouring the small things. As for my age, I can’t really believe it either. 🙂 But Margaret is definitely an inspiration.

  14. lynnkelleyauthor says

    Your best years are ahead of you! I admire people like Margaret who don’t let age keep them from doing the things they love. Take care, Alarna.

  15. says

    Wow what a beautiful, uplifting story, This is my new mantra:

    “You know, I don’t believe in worrying about
    things you can’t control.
    You just have to live your life, and enjoy each day.
    I have no regrets.”
    🙂 🙂

  16. says

    I congratulate the confessional shift in your writing. It makes you real to your readers (i.e. your fans) 😉
    I love this woman you’ve introduced to us. I love equally the woman she rekindled within you. Wisdom wears well on ya sister.
    I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a month ago. I thought that was an “old people’s” problem. Nope. It initially brought on the self deprecating why me nonsense, followed by the where’d my youth go crap, proceeded at last with a sudden epiphany that would’ve otherwise been much delayed in my life: gratitude.
    I am whole. I am mostly well. I hate two hands and five healthy kids and a drive in me to live recklessly and with utter abandon; that’s something that the failing of my health only reinforces. Live. Live like a lumatic if it feels most alive. Live like a dead man or a child or a dog. However you do it, live dadgummit.

    Love your spirit, and its wakening truth.

    • says

      Brandy! I knew you were going through some stuff – so sorry to hear about the arthritis. I am familiar with it and it’s no joke. I can totally follow the thread of your reaction there… Do they know what has brought it on for you?

      Only you would come out the other side with a solution that involves living recklessly! 😉 But sometimes I wonder if that isn’t exactly the purpose of these physical wake up calls? We can be very good at forgetting to live, sometimes…

      As I understand it, rheumatoid arthritis can be combated… or at least, controlled. And your attitude serves you well.

      (BTW, I have been told in my life that sometimes I’m not human enough with people. I’m attempting to learn to be more open for that reason…Have to admit, it is cathartic! 😉 )

      • says

        A catharsis that indeed has visible momentum in your writing. Good for you!!
        I am thankful for the diagnosis (so I can reassure myself in not losing my sanity and manufacturing some psychosomatic problem) but also do not fully believe it. Part of me is too ridiculously optimistic to accept the notion that I will live out the remainder of my years less than 100% well; the other part simply recognizes the raw power our perception has over reality. For these reasons I do not “have” rheumatoid arthritis; I simply got a diagnosis that makes sense of the last two years of my life. 😉
        Cheers!

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