Recently, a newcomer appeared at my monthly lunch with former work friends: a daughter-in-law who was visiting from another state. In other words, a younger person.
While aging is not a focus of our conversations, when we meet the topic is always under the surface, and as one member of the group put it, “We have to get our organ recital” — meaning a report of injuries, surgeries and ailments — “out of the way before we can move on to our normal conversation.”
As the meal was ending, said daughter-in-law asked a question. “Now that you are all of, shall I say, a certain age, what do you see yourselves wanting to accomplish or do over the next 10 or more years ?” Pure brilliance on her part to find a way to engage in our conversation and ask a question that called for reflection.
I said something I’d been sharing with others for months: I’d like to let go, stop volunteering, do less, wind down. I’m not sure what I had in mind when I said wind down. Lie on the couch for the rest of my life? Definitely not. Lack of mobility after my ankle fracture is what gave me the blood clot.
Later, I thought about my answer. How badly did I want to stop doing the things I’m accustomed to doing and mostly enjoy. Have I been kidding myself? Have I succumbed to the Buddhist notion of dukkha, that is, never feeling completely satisfied with…any number of things one can find unsatisfying in life, even if it’s just the bad dinner you paid good money for at a restaurant last night.
A recent experience added to my uncertainty about the assertion that I was going to change my life. I’ve been getting physical therapy for my injured ankle. After seeing the therapist, he assigned me to a particular PT assistant I saw years before. I assumed he wouldn’t remember me, but he surprised me by acting like we were old friends. On my second visit, he said, “I’m assuming you did the maximum number of sets for these exercises.”
“Why do you say that?” He was right, but I wanted to know if it was a lucky guess.
“Because I know you. You go for the max.”
This made me want to read his old notes about me, but it also told me that if I really wanted to slow down, it was going to take a lot of work. A complete personality change is not the metamorphosis I’d expect at this stage in life, as in defying nature and converting from a butterfly to a cocoon.
I’ve seen many recommendations lately to spend time thinking and meditating about who you are at the core. This advice is usually for younger people. At my age we’re supposed to know who we are. But if we’re not sure, maybe we should just ask the people who know us, not only long-time friends but those we only see for 30 minutes at a time for a few weeks or months.