At 85, I’m Exploring Another Country.
Having recently celebrated my eighty-fifth birthday, I hold my intention to live in exploration. According to the dictionary, exploration means “to investigate another country.”
And that is precisely what age is: another country to uncover, new adventures on the road. Who are we now, and what do we want, really want?
As a psychotherapist, I engage with these questions on a regular basis, with two power tools always at the ready. Tools, I hasten to add, that are freely available to all. The first is Listening. This is not listening to the news while making dinner or confirming the agenda for an upcoming meeting. This is deep listening. Complete attention vs. waiting to speak.
This brings us to the second power tool: curiosity. Curiosity is the alternative to judgment, and the fastest way to feel unsafe is to feel that we will be judged, graded, given an A or an F in life. Horrible! But when we are curious, we show interest and caring, whether it’s the people woven into our daily life, or those we encounter if for a moment. Simply making the effort to learn the names of the lovely young women at the bank, at the grocery store, or at work in the park jumpstarts a vivid old age.
E.M. Forster famously said, “Only connect.” I believe that connection is the consequence of curiosity. Given the realities of geographically dispersed families, we may need to find new venues for connection. An intentional space for deep listening, combined with curiosity and caring, can become the energetic center for our future explorations. We need companions for the road. Perhaps they will be found in new listening partnerships, a peer counseling arrangement, or in a support group.
Exploration may require leaving some things behind. Decluttering is not just about books, CDs, kitchen equipment; it is about creating internal space. Looking around, what do we see? A vast and brilliant sea of possibilities, or a more confused scenario, with shards of self-doubt, regrets, and shreds of unfulfilled potential smudging the picture? “Let it go, Diana,” said a friend recently. I had mentioned a major regret regarding my children. “Forty years ago,” she said, “don’t mention it again, it simply smears the pleasure of the present.”
I should also mention that in the last eight years, I have lost 95% of my vision. This has been daunting but also instructive. I have had the occasion to rethink my view of dependency. I now rejoice in the company of the charming young people who have invaded my home and my life with their high spirits and generous support. They have evoked and reinforced my creativity through their service. I’ve leaned into the role reversal as my delightful daughters tie my shoes and escort me across the streets. I allow myself to receive more of the tender ministrations of my partner of twenty years.
Age cannot be bundled into a neat package for easy distribution at the border crossing marked “old.” It is to be unpacked slowly as the luscious gift it is, offering time and observation. We have eyes to see, ears to hear, and what do we notice now? Life is a sensuous feast, thanks to our senses, taste, touch, smell. How many colors of green do we collect in the park? How about a cup of tart ginger tea? A velvet jacket with a silk handkerchief? We are all in this together, and I am glad of it. The exploration continues.
Diana DeVegh is a Psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. The beliefs expressed in the blog are based on her experience of living her best life beginning in her 60s, although she always points out that the highlight of her life before her 60s was being a mother to two beloved daughters. The pleasures of work and love support days of joy and fulfillment. She has recently started writing personal essays that have been published in the New York Times’ Modern Love and Graydon Carter’s AirMail.