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What Makes Life So Full Now?

What Makes Life So Full Now?

Sometimes I imagine trying to tell my younger self how life is now, as I approach 70. Where would I begin? What parts could I tell and what would I want to leave out? Musing like this, I remember a story I heard Ram Das tell, shortly after his book, Remember, Be Here Now, came out. It must have been in 1972 when, to the immense delight of would be meditators and druggies and college students across the province of Ontario, Ram Das arrived in Toronto. Hundreds of us crowded into one of the gr[...]

Is There a Map for Growing Old?

Is There a Map for Growing Old?

About half way through what I was calling My Year of Living Dangerously—the year I thought might last forever with me languishing gloriously on the sofa reading novels and watching the wind shake through the poplars across the street—the matter of Growing Old came knocking on my door. It wasn’t what you might expect—some bad news thing about a fall or the death of a dear friend or discovering overnight that I had developed jowls. It was a call, a wake up and show up and pay attention call that I[...]

Shadows of Aging Part 1: Powerful Forces

Shadows of Aging Part 1: Powerful Forces

The year I turned fifty, I was invited to Toronto to be a keynote speaker at a conference for women. A conference organizer, a barely controlled fireball named Victoria had invited two other women to be speakers as well. Michelle George, an actress and singer, was a virtual legend in Toronto for her spontaneous theatre work. She had been a member of Peter Brook’s original company of actors, dancers, musicians who toured across the Middle East and Africa in the early 1970s. The third woman, Or[...]

Shadows of Aging Part 2: Disturbing the Furies

Shadows of Aging Part 2: Disturbing the Furies

Once Michele George, Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I had launched into the first morning of “The First Canadian Conference on Women Elders,” we knew we were in trouble. As I look back now, I tremble at what we were setting in motion that day. The stereotypes of aging we were carrying came from some mix of 19th century novels, old movies and the direst fears in our culture that equated growing old with becoming useless and dependent. …  The truth was that we had no experience of what it was like to [...]

Becoming Elders

Becoming Elders

Trust.  Trust.  Trust.  So much trust is needed to come to my writing room every morning. To not lock back into what I think I know, all the old opinions, to what’s been said before by others, and so much better than I can say it. Especially by Eliot.  He already wrote in 1943 everything we need to know now. I have it right downstairs, on the top shelf in the hallway… But Eliot isn’t me.  He doesn’t know the way that reality comes through this 68 year old woman in this time, of Barack Obama a[...]

Growing a Heart of Wisdom Part 1: The Necessity of Grieving

Growing a Heart of Wisdom Part 1: The Necessity of Grieving

An October morning in Dubrovnik. Clouds have been layering over the perfect blue horizon since sunrise— feathers drifting towards Italy in the west, splatters of white floating north to Slovenia, and small cream puffs piling up like tiny French wedding cakes in the south over Bosnia. Sitting here with two pillows plumped behind my back, I am living one of my childhood dreams, lazing in bed and gazing out at the endless sky. Another day in Paradise, Paul announces, coming in to tickle my feet [...]

Growing a Heart of Wisdom Part 2: Calling the Ancestors

Growing a Heart of Wisdom Part 2: Calling the Ancestors

Settling into my window seat on a short flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, I end up deep in conversation with a man in horn rims sitting next to me. I’d intended to hide behind the pages of the Herald Tribune but couldn’t resist his open, almost eager face. He’s Greek, he told me, a music professor fresh from teaching in Brooklyn and on his way to Frankfurt to learn how to conduct an orchestra. He tells me his name, Nichos something, and asks for mine. Sherry, I say. “What about your last na[...]

The Zen of Aging

The Zen of Aging

Through most of my thirties, I spent my dreamtimes following cobbled streets that angled into mysterious alleyways and climbing wide stone steps that descended to destinations I never reached. In the mornings, I’d hurriedly make breakfasts and the kids’ lunches and wait for the bus to take me to the subway and then into the slab of concrete office building where I did psychological research at the University of Toronto. Through long Canadian winters with skies the color of cement, my eyes would [...]

Old Age is Boring Part 1: Another Country, A Different Game

Old Age is Boring Part 1: Another Country, A Different Game

Today is the first day of winter, with a pale sun barely seeping through the damp air. I’m sitting stubbornly on the back deck wrapped in my heaviest sweater, trying to write about what it is like to be … I don’t know how to say this. A woman growing old? A woman aging? Or forget the woman part, what is it like just to be getting old now. We’re all so relatively healthy, we have so many more resources and solutions than our parents and grandparents did, and so many more expectations for ourselve[...]

Old Age is Boring Part 2: Little Losses and Endings

Old Age is Boring Part 2: Little Losses and Endings

By the time you get to 60 or so, you’ve begun to push away the small sorrows of the secret dreams you’re not going to get to in this lifetime. Things you’ve probably never mentioned to anybody but have been a lovely possibility, something the future could hold if things work out. To name a few of mine: hang gliding; raising German Shepherd puppies or maybe golden labs; living in an artists’ commune in Italy; living alone in a cottage in Maui where I leave footprints in the sand every morning bef[...]

The Geese Are Flying South: Engaging My Fear of Aging

The Geese Are Flying South: Engaging My Fear of Aging

As I wake up this morning, it takes a little while to remember where I am. I sit up in bed, pulling the quilt around me against the damp, and wait. Here it comes: the hills above Half Moon Bay. Old growth redwoods drip through the front window, and in the distance, fog rises off the Pacific. Wild geese, moving across the sky like a pack of barking dogs, are heading…where? What month is this? I wait again. August. Late August. It must be the Fall migration. The geese are flying south. * * * [...]

Hidden Secrets of Growing Old Part 1: Pentimento

Hidden Secrets of Growing Old Part 1: Pentimento

Sitting here on a May morning, curled up in my favorite spot on the chintz sofa in front of the picture window in our living room, I’m gazing at a single salmon colored rose just peeking out of its bud cover. It seems to glow with its own light. Slowly my view spreads out, easing into the quiet of the young day and drifting across Olive Avenue to the poplars in the distance. A gust of wind shudders through the light green sheets of leaves, when—amazing!—a cold wet sting of ocean breeze slaps [...]

Hidden Secrets of Growing Old Part 2: An Adventure so Exquisite

Hidden Secrets of Growing Old Part 2: An Adventure so Exquisite

It’s a cool July morning with the Pacific fog sitting plump as a grey hen on the far hills. I love the way the mist hides us here in the flatlands for awhile, as if we were in a time out of time. When the sun breaks through around noon, I have a phone date with my niece Catherine. It will be 3 p.m. in Rhode Island. Ava’s still at day camp and the baby might be asleep. I tap the number into my cell phone and wait. No answer. Ten minutes later I try again. Someone picks up and I can hear Cat yelli[...]

Questions that Won't Go Away Part 1: Growing Wise

Questions that Won't Go Away Part 1: Growing Wise

In a story I told earlier, Meeting the Wise Elder, when a baker named Rose turned 50, she was awakened by a question that would not go away. In desperation, she journeyed to meet a Wise Elder but when Rose asked her question, the Elder smacked Rose hard and kicked her out of the house. Rose was outraged. It was not until later that she understood that questions don’t always have answers and what is more, that she was trying to give away her precious question for somebody else’s answer. The fi[...]

Questions that Won't Go Away Part 2: Diminishment

Questions that Won't Go Away Part 2: Diminishment

When you encounter a question that won’t go away, it keeps pestering you, tapping at your inner doors and waking you too early in the morning or keeping you from sleep at night. Sometimes, if you ignore it enough, your question will go underground. But eventually, unless you work very hard indeed, it will begin to call you to itself until, almost without your noticing, you will find yourself turning towards your question like a flower growing towards sunlight. This is true throughout our live[...]

Meeting the Wise Elder

Meeting the Wise Elder

Here is a version of a story I first heard from Rabbi Jonathan Omer-man many years ago. I have changed a number of the details but never forgotten the essence of the story because it felt like a knife going into my heart. It has come back to me now as I contemplate what it means to be a Wise Elder. Once, in a tiny village in Eastern Europe, there lived a woman named Rose. She spent her days as a baker of breads with fragrances that wafted invitingly from her open window. Every morning, Rose and[...]

Being Here

Being Here

The only place to start is here, which is to say, in the middle of a life that has no true markers, however much you might try to find or create them. Here has no need for markers. It’s a center with no perimeter. Which is a relief actually—to not have to worry about patting down one’s edges (that are always fraying anyway), or pulling them in or otherwise having to keep track of that fictional construction of I that we’re always fussing with, checking in the mirror to see if it’s still there[...]

With boundless gratitude to webmaster Alla Gringaus (email: alla.gringaus@gmail.com) who not only designed and built this site but has been the most inspiring of teachers in her meticulous and gracious guidance into the mysteries of the internet. And, also, a special thanks to Heather Preston, whose work on the cover of Ripening Time inspired the artistic theme of my site