By Carole Hemingway, an internationally regarded author, speaker, and historical researcher. She currently lives along the coast of Maine where she is writing a book about Gettysburg, and waiting to publish another book about her father, Ernest. Ms. Hemingway wrote this essay for Inspired Women Magazine at the encouragement of her close friend, Bismarck, ND-native Patrick Atkinson.
I think I turned the aging corner and faced down maturity when I was 56…maybe 52. I was in good shape, had just hiked the Grand Canyon twice…and on the spur of the moment decided to move to Maine. I had experienced two marriages and divorces and needed a breather from both.
I don’t remember much about menopause since I quite literally flew through it, piloting bi-planes and gliders for no other reason than that I wanted to soar…and though I was getting older…my spirit was somehow getting younger. I never needed estrogen and even now don’t have many wrinkles. I was not inspired to buy a gun.
My motivation was toward mastery of self…so I became a nudist for a number of years, then switched to Buddhism…there was an article written about that, about me doing that, in a national newspaper entitled FROM NUDISM TO BUDDHISM. Through these many experiences, I found my own voice, and went from anger to forgiveness.
I watched men my age go through vanity crisis’s; the aging athlete, the excess-consumed VPs of major companies, and macho men trying to hold the line. From somewhere within, I thought to myself, “Good luck. No one is bullet proof.”
In gyms and fitness centers throughout these years, I saw others pour out tremendous energy and dangerously suppress their emotional needs. I knew who I was and never feared getting older. Age is a number; I knew. Passion is that really good feeling we have about oneself.
Armed with my building sense of self-worth, I wasn’t interested in aggression or the struggle for control and dominance. All those things, I found, are appetites, like the sex drive. They build up, get satisfied, and then just build up again.
My ex-husband was nine years older than me and felt challenged by any younger guy whose energies he saw as raw and uncontrolled. Not for me; in my opinion, men don’t reach the crossroads of life until they pass 50 because that’s when they can become classy yet, silly enough, the biggest thing many worry about is losing their hair. The hair loss for men slows down at about 55 to 60 so if they’re not totally bald by then, they won’t be. There’s hope for them.
I got my father’s thick hair and his bad teeth, so my mouthful of crowns is worth a lot of money. My hair is still as thick as grass especially in summer. That’s who I am.
I still look forward to ‘good sex’ combined with love, and if it happens, it will happen. I feel that good communication in a relationship is the exchanging of vulnerabilities. That takes trust and time to build, but it’s worth it. What fun to discover that both man and woman are ‘diamonds in the rough,’ and can polish each other right.
Once past 50, there’s a whole other side of self that can be brought to life! You don’t lie down and die because of a number on your birthday cake… passion is not only possible while aging, it comes with wisdom, lots of humor, and gets better with time. Love gets better too after 50…let’s be honest; for love to be great, there has to be openness and an ability to change, and that comes with maturity wisdom, and grace.
Commercials on television tell us that if we pop enough vitamins, slather on enough cream to slide out of bed, exercise enough flesh off our thighs, and lube and tune the hydraulic system, we will be armed against the invasion of age. My thought is; who really cares? When experience and surprise are lost, worrying about all that stuff doesn’t mean a thing. It’s what’s inside the box that matters, not what paper we wrap around the outside.
If we don’t occasionally march ourselves out to the end of a limb and jump in new directions, how can we celebrate the wonder of flight? And if we don’t continue to learn, how can we continue to develop?
Don’t regret what might have been. I don’t know about you, but it takes time to learn the art of ‘playfulness’, especially when it’s blended with curiosity. Give up some control, open your heart…and stop taking yourself so seriously.
It took me two heart attacks to realize that after my two divorces I had chosen to shut down. When the doctor said I had to go in for a triple by-pass or die, I chose the open heart surgery. Seriously, I have never met more cranky people, of all ages, than I did in rehab. One day I couldn’t control it anymore and just blurted out, “What the hell is the matter with you people? We all just got a second chance at life, and you look like death warmed over.” It drew applause from the nurses.
By peeling life down to the simplest of existences and allowing myself to play, by being short on expectations and especially in what I will receive from others, I am free to take risks when they arrive.
I love long daily walks when it’s not 7-below zero. We are never too old to benefit from exercise. We need to be more optimistic. Never let doctors take over your life because that means you’ve given up fighting for it. We should all celebrate breaking the bonds of ordinary mortality; humor adds years to one’s life.
The truth is I don’t know what old is. I have no idea. What I do know is that I feel I’ve re-created myself and am making room for the love of my life. Being single and aging puts a lot of people in a blue funk, but I look at it as a gift instead. God has given you another life to live and with all your experience and wisdom you get to drive this new life to a powerful, totally unpredictable purpose.
I have found that if you view every day as an awakening, you will never grow old. You will, thank God, keep growing.