Between a Rock & a Hard Place

It’s June! In the northern hemisphere, that means it’s finally summer pretty much everywhere, even in the Pacific Northwest. Well, some days at least. June is a big month in my family. I will be 72 this week, on the summer solstice. It’s also the birth anniversary month of my mother, my son, one of my grandsons, and my sister. My birthday is sandwiched between Father’s Day and my father’s death anniversary. It will always be between a rock and a hard place, a celebration accompanied by grief.

I wasn’t present for my father’s death, it came suddenly, with no time for goodbye. I lived far away, and we were emotionally distanced too. My mother’s death was a different story, as you know. There were years of anticipatory grief, of living with a long ending. I was as present as it is possible to be. Back then, I often wished I were less present. Now, I’m glad I was here.

A friend is accompanying both of her parents on the long journey. Recently her mother had a crisis that landed her in the hospital—on a holiday weekend, of course. You want your parent not to suffer; you want them not to die. You’re grateful to be with them; you’re resentful. You want them to live forever; you want your life back. All legitimate emotions; the very definition of between a rock and a hard place.

Aging is the same. I love being seventy: the freedom to do what (and when) I want to do; and the option to simply be, to sit in the chair in the corner window and read and nap all afternoon if I want to. Lately a squirrel, eternally hopeful to be able to jump from the deck rail to the bird feeder hanging from the overhang, has taken to sitting on the window ledge and—from a foot away, through the glass—looking me in the eye, begging for access. I look back into its big brown eyes, and say, “sorry, no.” (I wonder if I should put out a squirrel and chipmunk feeder.) To live and be in these moments is a gift. It’s not only having time to do so, but having the will not to tell yourself you should be doing . . . something, there’s a long list. It takes practice.

I’m grateful for the freedom, and the energy and good health (I know I’m lucky in that) to hike in the mountains and drive to the beach; and I did both a couple weeks ago—ahead of what turned out to be two days of jury duty, my first. And, I’m slower, my body aches sometimes. I wonder if every pain is a forever one. I’ve been treating myself to a monthly therapeutic massage; surely at 72, I have earned that treat, and my body thanks me for it. Sometimes I notice my brain is slower to kick in, and I forget little things more often. My hearing aids need an adjustment. I wonder when the cataracts will show up—not if, when. Is joint replacement in my future? But I’m not borrowing those troubles right now.

Another friend, closing in on seventy, is approaching the milestone with dread. One thing she noted in a recent blog post is that the grandchildren who have been such a blessing, and for whom she moved to a new state, are older now, and have less interest in the “old people.” I get that! Mine are so busy, they never visit. (Fortunately, I can still drive the two hours to visit half of them.) They no longer want to come to Camp Gigi. The younger one has apparently outgrown the “pretend stories” he used to ask me to do with him as soon as I walked in their door. I assured my friend, and myself, it’s not about our age, it’s about theirs. But we thought we had it all figured out, this grandchild immersion, and now we have to pivot again, find new interests, new joys, new ways to spend our time.

Remember that movie, Sliding Doors, how one’s life might be different if an alternate decision had been made at some point in the past? Or maybe it wasn’t even a decision you had control of. Had a particular event in my past happened differently—had I missed, or not missed, the metaphoric subway—my entire present would be radically other. I love my life and wouldn’t want it any other way. And, sometimes, I keenly feel the loss of what might have been.

[*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t seen, or don’t remember, Sliding Doors, in the end Gwyneth Paltrow dies in the alternate universe story, the one that seems like the better life. Things eventually turn out really well in the real scenario; plus, she lives. So, you just never know.]

Maybe we’re always between a rock and a hard place. If we are lucky, we learn to fully occupy the space we are given; maybe stretching it out to its fullest capacity, maybe being content just as it is.

You probably recall the rock climber whose arm got stuck between a rock and a hard place, who saved himself by leaving his arm behind. His name is Aron Ralston, and he offers this:

 

May your boulders be your blessings. May you be able to embrace them.
And may you find what’s extraordinary in yourself.

 

What might you need to leave behind in order to live your life more fully? Or add? Where do you feel stuck? Leave a comment below, and/or journal about it.

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