It’s a journey like no other, and the only way to make it is to live it. Here, 10 writers ruminate on aspects of aging
10 writers ruminate on 10 aspects of aging
IHAVE FRIENDS with cancer – we all do. What I’ve observed in them is not a loss of hope but a refining, a honing, of what it truly means to hope. It’s no longer about imagining some better, distant future; that’s off the table. It’s more about the task of seizing every available joy. Hope now means feasting on the possible. One friend just flew to Lithuania to reconnect with her family roots. A colleague in his third year of Stage IV throat cancer is off to France to visit a pile of rocks that are important to him – megalithic “standing stones” whose origins and meaning remain mysterious. “In some gut-level way,” he shared on Facebook, “I think that to see and touch the stones again will dilute the terror of extinction that I live with now every day.” To me, that’s hope at work.
A third friend in remission from breast cancer organized a choir and then joined a second one, which has opened up a whole new channel of joy for her. (But don’t let me talk about “the upside of cancer.”) I recall spending time with another bedridden friend who was three days away from dying. I brought her some sprigs of lavender from her yard. She crushed them, inhaled them and feasted on their smell and feel, as if the lavender were a trip to Paris.
The famous line from a poem by Emily Dickinson describes hope as “the thing with feathers,” a bird perching in the soul. Oh really? I’d say hope is the thing with claws – it can turn on you if you are only trying to escape your reality.
So my friends with cancer have taught me something about hope, although not in the superficial sense of “dreams coming true” or “the darkness before dawn.” As we age or become vulnerable in other ways, hope is no longer a tomorrow thing; it’s about rooting ourselves in the joys of the imperfect present. Or as Leonard Cohen reminded us in his song Anthem, “Ring the bells that still can ring.” I think he would approve of another hopeful line from another poet, the Irish-American activist Lola Ridge: “You are laden with beginnings.”