Sunday, October 23, 2022

This Stage of Life: "OR" vs. "AND"

I am sixty years old now, a fact thoroughly celebrated this year. Paul organized one wave of surprises after another, beginning with our children all coming home to surprise me, followed by a party for local friends and a fun weekend with my sisters.

This is the most profound fact I’m finding at sixty: Life is “OR,” now, not “AND.”

I look at old letters and blog posts, and I think, “Life was all AND back then.” I gardened AND grocery shopped AND blogged AND served a hot lunch at school AND did minister’s wife duties AND flew to Minnesota regularly to see my parents.

These days, it’s OR. I can garden OR host visitors OR travel OR write. Not all the above.

Part of this is that my energy and brain capacity have dimmed. The other part is that I feel a lot less obligated to keep the world spinning. There’s not a lot of me, and I need to spend it carefully, choosing an occasional “yes” while leaving a sea of “no’s” behind.

That is why I haven’t been active on Life in the Shoe since June.

The last six months, beginning with the kids showing up at that overlook on the Oregon Coast, have been crazy in a very good way.

First was the avalanche of celebrations. Then came summer with the urgency of outside work like planting dahlias and trimming hedges. After that came a flood of adventures.

My two sisters, Rebecca and Margaret, came to visit at the end of August. I treasure them, and time with them, more and more all the time.

After that, on the fourth of September, a long-held dream came true when three of my Smucker sisters-in-law and I traveled to the UK for ten days.

Lois, Bonnie, Rosie, and me in front of a mirrored wall at Heathrow

I had two weeks at home and was barely over the inevitable jet lag when Paul and I left for Thailand to visit Amy. Paul was going to go on to India and Nepal to visit Open Hands savings group, but we both got Covid and our plans went completely sideways.

Paul and me at a temple near Chiang Mai

Fabric shopping with Amy

Now I am at home, once again in the cocoon of misery that is jet lag but planning to stay tethered here for a long time. The fall rains have begun, very delayed and welcome, so I might be able to post more, eventually, about all our travels.

So, as you see, I chose adventure and people over writing blog posts. I also took a break from meeting with my fiction writing group and almost all hospitality and time with friends, which was painful, but again, life is very much OR at this stage.

I did, however, fit a couple of “ands” in between. My dahlias survived a late planting and sporadic attention from me, and now they’re exploding into bloom like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

I also assembled a book of essays to finish out the series of books on family life that I’ve been collecting from my newspaper articles for almost twenty years. This one contains a number of columns from the paper that never made it into a book, along with other material I wrote around the same time, roughly five years ago.

During a long layover in Seoul, Korea, I finished the edits on the book and sent it off to a proofreader, which felt like the ultimate attempt at “and”—trying to make a deadline while traveling overseas.

We still have a number of steps to complete, such as formatting, cover design, and printing. It looks like launch will be in March.

To answer your questions before you ask them: The title isn’t finalized, so I’m not announcing it. This is not fiction—that is still percolating. And it’s not about Paul’s accident—I’m not ready to put that on paper. It’s about life past age fifty, with adult children. And because they’re adults now, I see this as the final book of essays about family life, because I can no longer write about them in the same way or pay them $5 to let me mention something funny or dangerous they said or did.

The fact that I’m writing again, in several different venues, testifies to a good work happening in my life. The last three years have been wild and difficult, beginning with my dad’s death and careening on to Covid, Paul’s accident, deaths and disasters around us, and many private griefs and challenges.

Eventually, by God’s mercy, spring came, my brain thawed, and the words trickled like a tiny stream of melted snow in the high Cascades.

I am excited about being sixty years old, about the possibilities and opportunities before me, and about “bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” [Colossians 1:10] 

If life forces me into “OR” mode rather than “AND,” I hope to choose wisely and make the most of whatever I pick.