A landmark birthday roared past recently, one of those that bestows a zero digit on your age and thus cannot be ignored.  Even for those of us who aren’t given to ruminating about the terrors of aging, it’s hard not to contemplate the implications of the ones that signal a new decade.

Not long before the Big Birthday, my three-year-old granddaughter crawled up in my lap, squirmed into the desired position and happened to shift the wrong way against my stiff right knee.  “Ow,” I winced, adjusting Sis slightly. “Be careful, sweetheart.  Evie is old.”  This last bit popped out unexpectedly; perhaps the zero-digit had been plaguing the subconscious more than I knew.   Sis absorbed my reaction and proceeded to probe further.

“Old?”  she repeated, leaning back in my lap, to get me into full cinematic view while knitting the little brow in puzzlement.  “Why?”

Ah.  Well, now.  Why, indeed.

Oh, you know, I have a birthday soon, I babbled, weakly.  And every year on your birthday, you get another year older.

That sufficed, as she nodded and moved on to other queries. But the question lingered in my heart.  Why am I old?

Well, I mean to say, how much time have you got?

I’m old because I recently argued with my sister about the color of a certain pair of gloves in a photograph.  Sometimes I argue with her for the mere sport of it, of course, but in this case, I clung to my position like a terrier to an aromatic shoe because of a rare and distinct advantage I hold over her when it comes to assessing color.  I have had cataract surgery and she (though older) has not—voila! If you have had the same procedure, you understand the implications with, forgive me, perfect clarity.  If you haven’t, well, you might not be old.

Continuing on the visual theme, I suspected I was old when I realized the military-style precision I applied to mapping out strategic geographic locations for glasses.  The aforementioned surgery left me requiring only reading glasses, and if you are old enough to need readers, you know they are never where you need them to be, like teenagers assigned to the dinner dishes.  If one wants to avoid wandering aimlessly in circles, seeking the pair you just knew was here somewhere, the only solution is to stash a pair at all strategic operating locations—home, office, car, purse, and so forth.  I bet you’ve spotted the flaw in this strategy, but I will nevertheless confess it openly, as a cautionary tale for fellow sufferers.  Once finished with the close-up task at hand, one must remove the readers and leave them where the map has pinpointed their post.  Otherwise, you wind up with four pairs in one room, and none in the critical locations, such as the kitchen, and the wandering begins all over again.

Traveling south of the head for additional evidence, I became certain I was old a couple of months back while folding forward in yoga class.  There was a sudden, strange feeling of an unusual obstruction in my right armpit, and further, discreet investigation revealed that my foundation garment (aka BRA) had given up the ghost on one side–perhaps also having reached a certain age.  This brazen abdication of responsibility allowed one of the girls, if you take my meaning, to attempt escape, traveling south and east.  This distraction did nothing for my yogic calm and meditative concentration.family-portraits

And so, the litany continues, right?  Swapping stories about such things with friends is a part of daily life at our age.

A couple of days after Sis’ question, I leaned over to straighten a photo frame on the wall of my bedroom, where hangs a collection of family portraits illustrating four generations.  Still smoldering on the upcoming Big Birthday, I peered more closely at the faces of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-grandparents, and thought about what those people had in common.  Most all were people of faith, some to an extreme that annoyed the others, but most went to their graves believing they would meet again.  And most didn’t go there early—sturdy, largely healthy, handing down good genes without disorders any more unusual than too great a fondness for Kentucky bourbon.  Hard-working folks, all of them, some of them high achievers, some more middle of the road, but all blessed with the will and ability and the freedom to pursue their own paths and support their families.    They passed down other traits, as well, like heavy eyebrows, unruly thick hair, lousy hearing, the love of a great joke, and a strong preference for fast cars.  Probably, in sum, it’s a story like those of countless families who, with all the warts and inevitable oddities, have been as fortunate as mine.

And there, I realized, is the answer to Sis’ question.

I’m old because I’m lucky.




Like so many Americans, G-ma has been diverted from her usual ruminations on grandchildren and family and turned instead to pondering this historic time in our nation.

Anyone with their eyes open in America this week has watched shock ripples that will be recounted for many generations to come.  For me, processing shock (and its close cousin, grief) seems to require a strange sequence of polar opposites.  With no intent to trivialize or make light, but only to affirm the oddities of humanity, I confess to the following map of shock in the days since the Great Eye-Opener (or GEO, also known as the American president election on Nov. 8):

Sometimes couldn’t eat; no appetite.  Then, I consumed doughnuts three straight days at the office, followed by candy later.  The sound of the television or radio was unbearable, then I found myself obsessing over every morsel of consumable news, everywhere.  One night was insomnia, then one night it seemed I would sleep until the next decade (and sorta wished I could).

Meanwhile, a funny thing happened on about Day 3, post-GEO.  I was brushing my teeth and casually listening to a TV commentator, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by so many people opining on what everyone should think, do, feel or envision now.  How exhausting, how useless. It’s too much.  I switched the TV off.

Spitting out the toothpaste with greater-than-usual velocity, I looked in the mirror, and a thought occurred. Maybe I should pay more attention to the inside of my own head, and start my examination there.  And really consider what I’ve done, just me.  Maybe, Mirror, those things are not quite as obvious as they seemed. Before.

The Mirror looked back with some questions.

“So,” the Mirror began, “Did you do what you thought was right for your country this past week?’

Well, I thought so, I began, tentatively.  I voted, early, even, wore my sticker to the office, wrote a check to my candidate, did my best to stay in the discussion in some places and out of it in others.  I stayed up later than anyone my age that I know to listen to the results and grapple with the implications.  I prayed for insight and understanding.

“And?”  The Mirror inquired.

And, what?  I stared back.

“Do you think what you did mattered?  Was it enough?”

Oh, you know, it was about the same as most people I knew—more than some, less than others, but generally the same.

“Then I’ll ask you again,” said the Mirror, one eyebrow raised, like my mother giving us the mean eye when we were kids. “Was it enough?”

Dang.  This is hard.  I fumbled for a response, but the Mirror won’t break my gaze.  And probably won’t like the first answers that float up.  They’re about status quo, and meeting my obligation, and how so many nice people think politics is icky, and sometimes I do, too, and sometimes my friends don’t like it on Facebook, and at least I didn’t write in some crazy person…on and on.

But the Mirror is not going to let me off with this, I can tell.  Best I can manage, without averting my eyes, is:  Okay, no.  In the deepest part of my conscience, down deeper than what rustles the pillowcase on the average night, I don’t think it was enough.  I’m not smart enough to know the precise factors that would have changed what happened this week, scientifically, analytically.  All that stuff.  But yes, fine, OK, I admit it, I could have done more.

“Now we are getting somewhere,” the Mirror agreed, lowering the eyebrow just a fraction.  “Would doing more have made a difference?”

I don’t know that!  I started to raise my voice.  I can’t know that.  Who can say?  I’m just one person!

“Okay, One Person,” the Mirror volleyed.  “That’s true.  But we are talking about you, after all. You are the only person we can manage.  And you think there could be a different answer, or we wouldn’t be having this little chat.”

True enough, I sighed.

The Mirror pressed on. “Sounds like you think next time should be different.  Must be different.  Fair?  If so, what does that mean?”

I don’t know!  My voice rose again, with just a shade of embarrassing panic.  It’s only been three days!  I don’t know what to do next time!    Or, now, even.  Join the march of women on Washington?  Give more money?  Help start a new party?  Wear my friends out on Facebook until they all erase me from their feeds, or find new Facebook friends?  Talk more about this at cocktail parties, or talk less?  More yoga and meditation, and better kindness to all peoples? C’mon, Mirror, help me out here—surely you can think of something!

“Go away,” the Mirror said, calmly but firmly.  “Go away and find out.  You were a reporter once; you know how to ask questions.  Start talking to people.  Watch for ideas.  Follow the people you respect whose conscience points them the same place that yours points you.  Take a step, even one.  If it’s the wrong step, take a different one.  Remember what Dad always said:  Do Something, Even if it’s Wrong.  Then come and report back.  I expect an update.  Don’t wait long.  It’s time.”

The Mirror is right about that last, for sure.  It’s time.

I switched off the light, and left the room.