Nobody Taught Me

how to be old.  We go from preschool to precollege and all the following degrees and accomplishments.  I can figure out the square root of lots of numbers, but have no idea how to pass the time in my latter years.

When I recall about the classroom hours learning algebra and trigonometry, and what a waste of time they were, I wish somebody had instructed me on getting on in years productively.  Was I supposed to gain this knowledge growing up and watching older folks?  My mother didn’t live long enough to reach this point in the age progression so I have no example to follow.

We were a small family, no aunts or cousins nearby, and maybe I have always been lonely.  What I know for sure is that as the days get longer and lighter, they just provide more time to fill.  I went to a yoga class this  morning, and have a few other activities, but too much of my time I seem to spend in doctors’ offices and making appointments for future visits.  Will this be the sum of my days?

I can tell you what other contemporaries do-they play cards and mah jong, socialize with each other and enjoy the leisure time many worked a lifetime to earn.  I never had to work very hard in my life, and now the added minutes seem unnecessary and unneeded.  I have one good friend I meet each weekend for lunch, but although from another country, she is surrounded by family and acquaintances.  I envy the support circle she dwells in.

I probably should have made the attempt to keep friendships throughout the years, but I was too lazy or self-centered.  So now I am much older and alone.  I discarded interests like tennis and running and relegated them to discarded pile of past pastimes.  Oprah asks “What would you tell your younger self?”

I would pay attention more to relationships-male and female, pursue the interests that made me happy, and be kinder to those I encounter along the way.  I would realize friends and activities were not burdens, but blessings, and now I am solely lacking.  A neighbor invited me to see a movie at her home, and I declined.  Do I feel so much pressure to be entertaining and social that I miss golden opportunities for companionship.  I feel like the last person chosen to be on the team, and have only myself to blame.

My back hurts and my bones are thinning and the pain is my main friend.  No fun getting older, but it could be a lot better if I had made and make the effort to reach out not to grab sometime, but to extend my hand in kindness.

 

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PASSOVER

My mother loved the springtime, and preparing for Passover was one of her favorite rituals.  In addition to the delicious food she set out, the table was beautiful, sparkling with china and crystal she saved for the occasion.

I have not followed in her gracious footsteps.  She was raised as an Orthodox Jewish girl and I didn’t even go to Sunday School.  I was overly indulged and when I told my parents they made me drink white milk there, they assured me I didn’t have to go back.

Instead, Sunday mornings found me on the tennis courts of Druid Hill Park in Baltimore working with a wonderful coach.  The lessons paid off, as I rose in the ranks of local players and loved playing the game.  I can’t even remember if my sister attended Sunday School, but our family was definitely Reform.

On the special first night of Passover my mother served lamb (which I still think of as a delicacy,) delicate asparagus and all the appropriate holiday accompaniments to make for a festive occasion.  With his jokes and desire for the lengthy meal to end, my father often ruined these nights.

As Passover arrives this year, I think of my mother and the beautiful lady she was.  Although I do not observe the holiday, she would be proud to know her granddaughter does with her father.  I don’t feel guilty, just a bit nostalgic.  At times like this, I regret being alone in the area with no family.  But the truth is that I don’t miss the ceremonial occasions of my religion.

I wish I knew a bit more about my heritage, and I could have taken classes to clarify the history of the Jewish people.  But I never made the effort.  After Mom died, the family was never the same.

Since my divorce, I have dated non-Jewish men almost exclusively, and I have felt comfortable with them despite our different backgrounds.  Maybe I don’t want the pressure and expectations of a Jewish wife.  I am just not very domestic.

So, as Passover is upon us, I buy and eat the proper matzo, enjoy the macaroons, and conjure up images of families enjoying this time together.  Enjoy whatever religious holiday you are celebrating this weekend.  I will be saying my silent prayers and thinking of my mother.

THE PERILS OF PRIVACY

I don’t have a welcome mat outside my door, and I wouldn’t even if they were allowed in my condo.  I would probably have a Do Not Disturb sign on my door as I really like my privacy-probably too much.

When my daughter was young, I socialized with other mothers and we shared time and activities with our little ones.  But, without her as a reason to get together with contemporaries, I have walled myself into a self-imposed prison of isolation, and I am afraid I am too old to change.

What am I protecting?  A carpet that needs cleaning, too many shoes piled in my den, and a bedroom sofa littered with clothing?  Probably not, as I could remedy those deficiencies easily.  I am shielding myself from contact with other people as I make comparisons that find me on the losing end.  They have families nearby, schedules, less apparent anxiety and I feel pressured to measure up.

I have built a leaning tower of height, but little depth, and a straw foundation that would crumble at the slightest tremble.  Like living on a fault line, my life is in danger of collapsing when stressed.

I have retreated from friendships, although I want them desperately.  My fear of connection outweighs my need for people who might get to know me.  I like them well enough, it’s just that I am afraid of getting too close.

What would I give up?  Paralyzing isolation, feelings of vulnerability, and the terror at the thought of needing help and having nobody to call.  People have offered everything from a ride to the airport to getting my mail when I am away, and driving me to doctors’ appointments.

But I turn down their well-intentioned offers and end up paying for those services from anonymous companies.  I want to change, and as I get older I anticipate having to rely on others to help me.  When I see my neighbors receiving assistance from each other, I am jealous of my inability to be part of our small community.

To go back to childhood and unearth the origins of my need for too much alone time would take too many years  and pain to initiate.  I am trying to be more friendly, but too often my fears overtake my desire to change.

So, please don’t stop caring or asking me how I am doing.  I really appreciate kind words and offers of help.  I just hope I can learn to tolerate human interactions before it’s too late.

 

THE QUIET CAR

Last Saturday, I traveled by train on the Amtrak Acela to Philadelphia to visit my daughter and her family.  When train 2208 arrived at the BWI station, I chose to sit in the quiet car.  This space is designated for folks who don’t want to listen to people talking or loud cell-phone conversations.

When I am alone, I prefer the lack of noise for the hour plus journey.  I selected a seat next to man who was not happy to see me occupy the space next to him, which he had preoccupied with newspapers and other personal gear.  During the trip, I could sense him moving as far from me as possible.  I felt like an intruder.

Back to the silence of the quiet car, I was solitary with my own fears and anxieties.  Lately, I am afraid of almost everything, and routine tasks and appointments assume ominous tones.  I guess this phenomenon is part of my current mild depression which I fear will escalate.

When I am traveling solo, hearing the sounds of conversations and even the laughter of children increases my loneliness-like a party to which I am not invited.  Only a few people dare to raise their voices loud enough to be audible and this I can tolerate.

Technology has made travel quieter in general.  Cell phones define the favored means of communication, texting leading the non-verbal exchanges.  Each person is participating in silent talk on their hand-held devices.

Actually, I used to enjoy the spontaneous chatter that evolved out of the proximity of planes and trains.  But, no more do strangers engage in exchanging information and repartee just because they share the same space.  Those days are gone, never to be resurrected, and I miss that allure of travel.  Maybe I am just old and behind the times of rampant technology.

On the return trip, I sat in a regular train car and was not too bothered by the noise around me, as it was mostly muted.  I will continue to travel by train and enjoy the quiet car when I find it.  A more desirable accommodation would be to learn how to be around other people and less distracted and disturbed by their talk.

Springtime Blues

T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Waste Land” that April is the cruelest month.  But for me, the downward spiral begins in March.  Right now, I am in a mood more sad than joyful.

Most people, statistics say, look forward to and delight in the blooming that accompanies warmer days and longer hours of sunlight.  Although this winter has dragged on, it is clear that there is no turning back the calendar to the gloomy, cold, dark days of the kindest months for me, and that we must keep turning pages on the calendar.

In winter, I can hide under layers of clothing, and the locked door of my home.  While most people are complaining, I enjoy the period of hibernation.  As an introvert, reasons to avoid social gatherings are a welcome excuse.  Fewer people intone, “Have a nice day.”  So, no imperative to enjoy myself or engage in outdoor activities.

I don’t mind being in the minority regarding my emotions as spring and summer approach.  I like being an outlier, and not part of the crowd.  Although sometimes I wish I could marvel at the early sprouts of daffodils and crocuses.  But, it is not to be.  Once again, trying to change is futile and acceptance is the answer.

I find myself skipping exercise classes and burrowing in my room as the light increases and the general mood is joyous.  I don’t think I ever fit in.  Writing even seems like a struggle, but continues to provide me with an outlet for my contrary reactions.

The extended cold weather has allowed be to stay bundled up in sweaters of various colors and I feel safe inside my own body armour.  I don’t like summer clothes, and dread short sleeves, and will miss my comfy leggings.

I think I could handle winter all year-long, as long as the snow was moderate and the temperatures not too frigid.  But I don’t get to choose, and have come to anticipate my springtime doldrums.

THE OTHER MARCH MADNESS

I don’t know anything about basketball or brackets, but I do hear mostly men talk about this monthly event each year.  Money is wagered and predictions are plentiful.  To me it means nothing.  But that doesn’t mean that March doesn’t hold its own special  significance for me and millions of others.

It’s tax time, folks-the moment we have to gather all the receipts and bills which may be deductible.  I hate this month of reckoning, and I start dreading it in January when we used to receive statements, 1099s, and banking information.  Now, “they” have moved the deadline up to the end of February for financial institutions to communicate with us the yearly facts and figures.  So, it seems like one more month to procrastinate, but in actuality it just adds twenty-eight days to the dreaded deadline.

I try to be organized throughout the preceding twelve months, gathering relevant money information and storing it monthly in the second bedroom of my condo, which I never use.  The piles start neatly, but over time deteriorate into a paper mess which I have to sort through each March.  I am delaying the process longer than usual-too lazy or unwilling this year to get the job done.

My accountant is a good man, and he just plugs the figures into an online form-easy for him, scary for me.  Not that I attempt to hide assets, but I still fear a possible audit.  Hopefully the IRS is occupied with Trump’s and other politician’s returns to bother with the lowly peons like me.

I keep staring at the container holding the paper and dread starting the excavation process of locating the relevant information.  Today, snowy and rainy, would be a perfect time to begin the task and maybe I will.

As my father told me, “All beginnings are hard,” and compiling my tax information is no exception.

HUNGRY

I am always super hungry these days.  No food satisfies me, from salads to cookies.  I am wondering if this sense of starvation has to do with more than food.  I am seeking something or someone to fill me up.  If I keep searching for fulfillment, I will continue to be hungry.

I just left the cafe at my favorite Barnes & Noble, after having scarfed down the gigantic chocolate-chip cookie, and still I want more.  Maybe what I need is not food, but something else.  Until I discover what is missing, or learn to be content with current circumstances, I fear I will keep on overeating.

When I was depressed, I had no appetite, and subsisted on Boost nutritional drinks.  My clothes were loose, and I had no desire for anything-food or otherwise.  My little world of misery was enough to keep me full of my own despair.

But now that I am feeling somewhat better, I keep craving food, which only leaves my leggings tight and my soul undernourished.  Have I always been this lonely and dissatisfied?

I know that the dating I talk about endlessly has not helped.  The more time I spend with men, the less confidence I have in myself.  They are far from perfect, and often have deficiencies in important areas that I blame on myself.

Trying to find a mate at my age only fuels my hunger for who I cannot find.  Maybe I need adventure, novelty or just contentment.  I am quiet by nature and am exhausted by trying to sound witty, smart and entertaining.  Maybe the days of trying too hard are over-I hope so.

When will I join the chorus of the Oscar-nominated song from the movie “The Greatest Showman,”  “I am me?”  In the film, various circus performers with obvious peculiarities belt out the lyrics about being who they are and not hiding anymore.  I see myself as hiding my true, but scary self.  Without the defenses of funny anecdotes and charming stories, I am left with a deep-thinking, often quiet me.

What do I find so unacceptable that I have to retreat from the essence of who I really am?  Am I so self-centered that I can’t bear being other than desirable by men who don’t meet my needs?  Maybe going naked emotionally will result in locating a man who cares for me just the way I am now.

Until then, I fear continuing the pattern of overeating will persist.  My mission is to accept myself as I am and hope others will too.