Make way, step aside, back up, get the smelling salts…and give this poor woman some air. This poor…old woman.
Yes, your friendly neighborhood writer is feeling a bit weak in the knees right now, a bit dizzy and faint. I might need to plunk down, right here on the floor, among you.
Here’s why: as of Nov. 14, I qualify for Social Security.
So I’m officially elderly. I’ve seen it coming. I’ve been spurning invites from the AARP for ten years and even though I’ve been ripping up the packets and stuffing them into the trash, the calendar is winning. As I wrote last month, my arches have collapsed and my bunions have set up their own rogue government. My grey hair insistently pushes out the “Red-brown #6” judiciously administered by Esteeve, my Pico Rivera stylist. My neck rivals Nora Ephron’s. I’ve got age spots and a menagerie of bumps and flaps suggesting my skin has been on the planet too long. My tri-focals keep getting thicker, prosthetics for myopia, presbyopia and some other –opia I can never remember. And while I’m at “remember,” what was it I was going to say next? I forget. Has anybody seen my cell phone?
I’m not just old enough to be my students’ mother, but now their grandmother. My allusions to Talking Heads and Twin Peaks, to name just two items from my moldy pop culture baggage, are so unknown to my students I feel like a lumbering brontosaurus.
What has been occurring to me about old age, though, is not so much how my body is falling apart, but how my dreams are faring.
The other day I was recalling the first time I traveled overseas. It was 1974 when I flew alone into Athens, Greece, where I arrived in the middle of a coup. I holed up taking bubble baths in an overpriced hotel until things calmed down and I could proceed to the Parthenon and Delphi and eventually Crete. It was exhilarating.
I was driven back then by a focused dream: to get out of Ohio, to get out of my ordinary life, to flex my choices, to be interesting as I thought of it back then. That energy propelled me through many more adventures: Peace Corps, marriage, more education, many jobs, a lot of writing good and bad.
Perhaps it’s part of the inevitable course of things: my dreams have changed. Now, some mornings I’m just satisfied with waking up. My dream is to sleep with my husband every night and go out for breakfast at Westside Diner. I could give up traveling tomorrow and never miss another TSA frisking, another roller bag. I have enough stories. I have enough material.
Now, I realize, my dreams have to do with my “village,” my neighbors. My dreams have to do with being in a community that is humane, safe, and manageable. I’ve given 30 years of my life to Flint and I have never been more anxious about its survival, as homicides pile up, break-ins plague even my own street, and the city seems unable to stop a spreading failure of the basic human services we need to live peaceable and sustainable lives together.
I see my young neighbors, beloved additions to my recent existence, struggling with life – raising their children, making sense of their careers, making ends meet. I see their exhaustion and worry. I see my students pulsing with the restless energy I once had, and I want them, like me, to have the chance to fly off to Greece if the impulse propels them and have the satisfactions I once enjoyed. I fear that the world is tightening up for them, the country miserly, crimped and divided. I want a better dream for them.
I’ll wrap this up with an actual dream. One night recently I woke up from a deep sleep, finding myself tightly tucked into a fetal position. My husband was in LA and I had a pronounced sense of solitude, not quite loneliness because I was enjoying the warmth of the bedspread and a nest of cushy pillows I’d assembled around myself in the scary darkest hours. As I unfolded my legs and stretched onto my back, the blankets warm under my chin, I savored the reassuring slats of morning light tipping over the rooftops and venerable silver maples of Maxine and brightening the blinds. I love my street, I thought. About Maxine, I’m a conservative: I want it to stay the same forever -- lovely, neighborly and green.
Suddenly I remembered a dream I’d just been having: I was in my apartment – one of those dream creations that bore no relation to my actual house. I had bought a new bed. It was big and lavish, with an ornately curved brass headboard. But where would I put it? Suddenly I realized my digs had a room I’d never noticed – a room I didn’t know was there. When I discovered it, open and empty and with a glowing hardwood floor, light streaming through big windows, delight and relief washed over me. I went and got my husband. Look, Ted, we’ve got another room!
So, my subconscious seems to be saying, there’s some leeway here somewhere, and when the door opens, it’s going to be good, even for an old lady eligible for Social Security.
But I no longer think that room is only for me. It has to have room for everybody. What we put inside should help us build a smarter, more compassionate life.
Oh, there’s my cell phone on the counter where I left it. Can somebody help me find my glasses? Once they show up, I’ll plunge right in to filling that new room. Here’s the thing: making that dream come true might turn out to be a job for the whole village.