By Nancy Slonim Aronie
Personal narrative and memoir can be about anything. Emotional truth and vulnerability are essential when writing your story. This one I just wrote so now you know aging and dying are on my addled brain.
Remember when your kids were young, really young and someone asked them their age and they boomed out in their proud little voices, “I’m three and a half.” It may have been your niece or your next door neighbor’s child but when they added the half you knew it was because they couldn’t wait to get to the next number. It meant pretty soon I’ll be four!
These days I’m described as a woman of a certain age. The implication is, of course, that it’s a number that should be kept secret, whispered, lied about even, that this natural stage of life is somehow an aberration, a problem to be fixed.
I remember when my teacher Ram Dass talked about turning sixty and told his friends in the West about his impending birthday, their response across the board was the same; a look of pity, sympathy and that furrowed brow that meant, O dear, poor Ram Dass. I didn’t realize you were so old. Then when he went to India, the response to his aging was the total opposite. They clapped their hands in excitement and awe saying, Oh Ram Dass this is wonderful. Soon you will be an elder! Soon you will have wisdom!
Growing up, I never really heard the word “elder” and even the word “wisdom” was kind of relegated to some kind of esoteric philosophical conversation.
Getting old in our culture has awful connotations; being put out to pasture, losing it, becoming irrelevant. The elderly are called oldies but goodies, old timers, old fogies, grampa and gramma as insults.
When my friends and I get together we joke about getting the organ recital (the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas) out of the way before we discuss other stuff. And once someone has told us about the new medication they’re taking for their adrenals, we can talk about Yo Yo Ma’s interview with Steven Colbert or Brexit or how brilliant Tony Shaloub is in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
These last two years my husband and I have lost an inordinate amount of close friends. It’s hard to be in denial about your own mortality when it’s so in your face as going to a memorial every weekend.
It’s true I haven’t been very realistic about my own aging. Looking in the mirror is a contradiction to how I feel. There’s a 27-year old in there somewhere. She just doesn’t show up in my reflection. But more and more I have been confronted with death and dying and denial isn’t working as much as it used to.
I have a friend who every morning makes a list of what she’s grateful for and one of her constants is that she’s still here. It never occurred to me to be thankful for still being here. I can understand being afraid of Not being here.
Being grateful for still being here when you consider the alternative, is really a beautiful way to start the day.
No one asks women of a certain age how old they are but just in case someone I meet musters up the courage to pop the un-PC question, I’m ready with my answer: I’ll say (with the alternative in mind), “I’m 78….and a half.”
Nancy Slonim Aronie, MA, is a Martha’s Vineyard-based instructor, commentator for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” and author of Writing From the Heart.