In a conversation with a friend about my father, who is still going strong at 96, I said, “I take after my mother, which is good because there is no way I want to live to such an advanced age, particularly since I won’t have a widowed daughter to come stay with me. It’s kind of spooky thinking of having to grow old alone.”
She said, “You never know what will happen. Maybe a new love will drop into your life. I can imagine you at some writer’s festival and a distinguished stud with salt and pepper hair and a sweet smile flirts with you. He asks for your number and the next thing the rest of us know, Pat’s out dancing and dining every Saturday night and she’s suddenly submitting romance novels for publication…”
I laughed. “I love the ‘sweet smile’ part. Who knows, with or without a stud, I might go out dancing every Saturday night. I desperately need a new life.”
She responded, “I think you need a new life too. I’m afraid you’re just wilting away. So — how do you get a new life? What do you want your new life to be?”
And that’s where the conversation stalled. How do you get a new life? It’s not as if you can go to the mall and search the aisles at Lifes ‘R’ Us until you find a new life that fits properly and looks good. (Though that does sound like an interesting concept.)
What-we-can-become is dependent on whether what-we-are is an integral part of our genetics, keeping us always “us,” or if we are infinitely mutable and can become whatever we wish to be despite our inborn proclivities. In other words, can we really get a new life or are we always “us”?
For me to go out dancing every Saturday night, I’d need a personality transplant. I’ve always been drawn to quiet activities, such as dinner and conversation that dances from one topic to another. If somehow I did overcome my natural inclination for such sedentary pursuits, where would I go dancing? I’m too old for nightclubs and too young for senior citizens groups.
Still, I will need a new life of some sort. My father will not live forever, and I will need to decide where to go and what to do. And the truth is, I haven’t a clue.
Current research by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert shows that while we can see how much we have changed in the past, we never think we will change in future. (Hence that ill-advised tattoo you got when you were young and now wonder what you were thinking.) But this isn’t always true. I know how much I have changed in the past. I have a photo of me as a baby, and I can see the vast changes between me and that poor befuddled creature. I can also see how different I am today from what I was four years ago when I watched my life mate/soul mate’s slow descent into death, and I can see how different I am from what I was almost three years ago when grief catapulted me out of that shared life into a new one. I can extrapolate from those experiences of change that I will also drastically change in the future.
I always feel the same, of course. — just me. (There must be some sort of mechanism, like an internal gyroscope, that keeps us “us” no matter how we change.)
The point is that I cannot figure out now what I want my life to be when I am free to pursue that life because I don’t know who or what I will be at the time. Maybe by then, I’ll miraculously have developed grace and style, and will have become a dancing queen. Or not.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+
February 7, 2013 at 3:31 pm
I don’t think we can change our basic personalities and abilities, although some evolution may occur over time. And we don’t always know what we’re capable of unless we try. I would say, choose a new activity that falls near one of your natural boundaries and see if you can grow in that direction.
February 7, 2013 at 6:55 pm
Sounds like a good idea.
February 7, 2013 at 4:06 pm
Well, I guess we could be twins. I too am cursed with longevity in my family. Right now it feels like a curse anyway. I never thought I would be a widow at 65. We had so many wonderful things we wanted to do after I retired. Unfortunately, I retired a year and a half before Ken died. I feel cheated in many ways. I’m determined to move forward and find a rewarding life.
Why is it that people think that the answer to our life’s journey is finding another significant other. That one isn’t on my bucket list. I too enjoy quiet activities like walking my dogs around the circle at night, gardening, and reading. I find that too much of a frenzy around me rattles my brain.
I love what you said about the ill-advised tatoo. When my niece was here at
Christmas, we went together and got tatoos. Mine is on my ankle. It HURT! We both got butterflies for the renewal of life. My butterfly is flying above a Japanese flowering cherry branch (Our Cherry tree bloomed in December when he died. Very odd.). The Kanji for “Eternal Love” goes down the side. At 66, I got a tatoo in memory of Ken. He loved all things Japanese. He even spoke the language. It wasn’t a mistake or a whim to do it. It feels very natural…like I’m carrying his spirit with me.
I don’t think much about the future. I try to explore each day to see what comes. Some really amazing things have happened that are quite unexplainable and remarkable. I feel that on my life journey, I’m climbing up a really steep, high mountain. I keep remembering that the view from the top will be breathtaking. I believe that this life is but a breath and we are destined to return to the loving source from which we came. Some days it’s hard to keep that in focus. Those are the days I pulg on.
February 7, 2013 at 6:54 pm
I like what you said, that the view from the top will be breathtaking. It sounds wonderful goal.
I’m mostly in the plugging on stage. Or maybe back to it. I used to think that someone wonderful would happen to me to offset all the grief, but somewhere along the line, that belief fizzled away. Maybe someday I will get it back.
February 8, 2013 at 12:53 pm
It’s that someday that I keep my eyes on. Right now, I don’t feel it, but I’m acting “as if”. There have been numerous times in my life that I had to act “as if” things would be OK. When our son died, no one wanted to see my grief. I had to act “as if” I was OK. I’m not sure that’s the best way to do it though; because after 10 years of acting “as if”, I went into a deep clinical depression. It started out with a dream of a child dying and I couldn’t save him.
February 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm
Oh, jeez, I am so sorry, Juliana. You have certainly had more than your share of terrible losses. Even if no one wants to see your grief, you have to find a way to show it to yourself at least so you can process it somehow. I hope you’re finding a way to let out your grief now, even if it’s screaming to the winds.
You seem very strong, dealing with your life the best way you can. I’m sure someday you will see that breathtaking view.
February 9, 2013 at 6:18 am
Thank you for the confidence you’ve expressed in me. That really helps. People tell me that I’m a very strong woman, but they don’t see the person that sits on the back porch alone and cries out to God for help. I’m not sure that I’ve had more sorrow than others. Life is what it is. I’ve also had many joys. I guess they balance each other out.
February 9, 2013 at 10:14 am
Who says crying out to God for help is a sign of weakness? You still have faith, which takes strength and courage, and you still have hope, which takes even greater strength and courage. And even if you do have times of weakness, that just adds to your strength as you pick yourself up and continue on doing what you have to do.
I feel blessed that you’ve stopped by to talk to me.
February 9, 2013 at 10:23 am
Uh Oh…I’m crying again because I feel blessed by your input. These are things I hadn’t thought about.
February 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm
I can’t and don’t dance. I prefer conversation. I’d much rather sit across the table and watch someone talk to me and enjoy the company and shared experience, but sometimes – that feels like dancing.
February 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm
I too prefer dancing by way of words, but I am trying to try new things, so ,aybe, some day . . .?