“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future” ~ Steve Miller Band
If you are a young person reading this newsletter, or at the very least a person who has not yet started to think of themselves as “old” (older, ageing), please do not despair.
There are many advantages to being young, or younger. In the quote-unquote normal course of events you have your whole life ahead of you. And you are likely either to have a strong body already, or one that – if worked with in the correct way – will respond with budding alacrity and become fit as the proverbial fiddle in no time at all. I’ve been watching this happen with my son Zachary, who after 25 years of being a talking head has discovered bouldering and has developed admirable biceps and the ability to behave like spiderman (without the aid of special effects), all in the course of a few months.
I could go on. However, the joys of being young are not the subject of my newsletter this month.
I am experiencing an unprecedented brimming over of the sheer radiance of being old(er). There is something utterly clarifying about it that reminds me of the quality of light that happens in the late afternoon on crystalline days. I would go so far as to say that life has taken on a kind of magical quality.
I’ve sat down to write having just come out of the ocean. Having lived in Cape Town for 24 years, today I had the delight of discovering a new place to swim – just around the corner from where I’ve lived all this time. Fisherman’s Beach in Murdoch Valley is a small cove curled up against an outcrop of mountain rock, part of the spine that snakes its way off the back of Table Mountain down to Cape Point. Today is magnificent as only a Cape Town winter-sunshine-after-rain day can be, and the water was pristine aquamarine.
Since I discovered cold water swimming thanks to the encouragement of Craig Foster of My Octopus Teacher fame, I have come to relish the exhilarating tingle of walking into the biting chill. I have learned to just keep going, until I reach the surf break and then to fling myself headlong into the surging foam. I am in love with waves, their power and their playfulness. And, of course, their towering beauty. While I was doing my best to imitate being a dolphin (such fun!), I found myself wondering about this translucent quality that life has taken on. It’s all interpretation, of course, but I am convinced in part it has to do with having navigated a monumental transition and having done so – if I say so myself – skillfully.
As those of you who read my newsletters regularly will know, from inside the odyssey it did not feel elegant . The decision to leave my home and my marriage plunged me into the liminal lands. It’s not as though I had not visited there before, but this time – being older – I decided to pay attention to the terrain. Foggy, with a kind of permanent half-light. No signposts. Often not even a path. Profoundly tiring, inducing a kind of sluggish disposition. My liminal lands required forbearance and submission. Surrendering to this, instead of resisting, rushing, or pushing produced an unanticipated harvest: kindness, compassion and self-acceptance.
Maybe it is confirmation bias – the way we see life mostly is, I suspect – but I have been noticing the widespread, ubiquitous presence of transition everywhere. I hear the language of upheaval, and the feelings of confusion, uncertainty, tentativeness, loss that accompany the rearrangement of a person’s life. I empathise with the experience of being reshaped, especially the part where who you once were has dissolved, like the caterpillar, but you have no inkling, not even a hint of the butterfly you are (you hope, you hope!) becoming.
I can offer words of wisdom, but I also know they won’t mean much. The “middle passage” as James Hollis describes it, is a deeply personal voyage.
In the way of the best kind of paradox, staying, even resting in the soup allowed me, in due time, to move. And I choose “in due time” deliberately, because my sense is that dues are paid in a life transition, if entered into whole-heartedly. Courage is required. Grace is the reward.
Emerging from the void, everything is precious. Birdsong is both rapturous and tender. Colours blaze. The here and now is captivating. Time is no longer slipping into the future. Present to every moment is where I want to be.
This week I met my husband’s new girlfriend. She’s lovely and I think she is perfect for him. Being present to the knowledge that he is loved has soothed something that was sad and sore in me.
I don’t think my younger self would have managed this. I think that knowing in my bones that my remaining days, weeks, years are now of a quantifiable number is rarefying. Far from being scary or depressing, it energizes me to carpe diem, with a thankful heart and something of a youthful spring in my step.