by Pam Bickell

Aging is one of the more awkward subjects in American society, due to our obsession with youth and external beauty. In prose that is as confessional as it is transcendent, Pam Bickell takes us to the center of her soul without ever leaving her body.

It’s interesting now looking back on my life. I can clearly see what turned out to be important and what didn’t. I do wish I’d been a better partner/companion. One night I dreamed I was a woman like Wild Horse Annie, out horse racing and shooting with the boys. I remember sitting on a bench, patting the seat and calling the men over, “Now, you all come over here and tell me all about it.” I loved their company but was not the settling kind. There may be a part of her still in me. So far, in this life, my dream of a true, long-lasting, spiritual relationship with a man hasn’t happened. But, I’m not dead yet—am I? Hold on, let me check. Okay, I pinched myself and definitely felt it, so I’m not among the dearly departed quite yet.

Surely, however, I have been blessed as a mother. All the minutes and hours and days spent growing up together, while love is deepening, is about as great as it gets. I know I’ve let them all down at different times and once in a while I get a pain in my chest when I think about that, but I did the very best I could and they all know how much they are loved, and that I am here if they need me. And, thank God, they do need me on occasion. Usually just to talk, but it means a lot to me, and to them, too, I hope. It’s not easy out there in the world. It blows my mind when I think about the pace of the 1950s ‘til now, when it seems like everything is going 20 times faster. I want every blessing for them, but they’re going to have to be flexible and creative, faith-filled and inventive to live and build families and careers in this world. It’s okay, though. I know they picked this time to be born the same as I did.

I was blessed, also, with work of the heart through the 80s and I know what it feels like to give of myself without conditions or expectations—to give because it’s what is needed. That’s the very best kind of work, though it may not mean big bucks. To some people, that doesn’t matter: Please, God, just let my work make a difference, let my life have a purpose.

Due to my illness and overnight aging experience, I also gained first-hand knowledge at 45 of what it’s like to be older. (My, I was impatient before then!) I lost vision and hearing and my fingers went stiff, so it’s hard to grasp or hold onto many things. I’ve broken almost all of our dishes by dropping them. My mom says, “Hold onto them tighter!” and I say, “That’s my problem, mom. I don’t KNOW I’m not holding them tight enough.” My lips stiffened too, so food drips (I don’t like to call it drool) onto my chin and chest. I nap for hours every day. I’ve lost bladder control on and off and one time filled my shoes with urine while trying to make it to a public restroom. I was at a writer’s conference and had to leave mid-day because my pants smelled. I cried in the parking garage. When I told the story to my middle child, not in a comical manner–I was actually looking for sympathy–he laughed so hard, he almost fell off the chair. I had to admit it was pretty funny and had a good laugh, too.

Getting old can be very humiliating, but the worst part is the memory stuff. You can ask me a question and maybe by morning the answer will have worked its way through and across my misfiring neural connections, but maybe not. I’ve left frying pans on the stove top that melted into twisted metal when I forgot to turn off the burner. I’ll even think, Hmmm. What’s that smell? but not put two-and-two together. Same with running water in the sink: What’s that sound? I put the teapot on, but forget to turn the burner on. On several occasions, I’ve been in stores and suddenly looked around and didn’t know where I was. My vision was tunnel-like and my hearing made everything sound like it was coming from very far away—even my children’s voices, who were right next to me.

I was confused every month trying to find, let alone pay, my bills. Who do I owe again? I’d think. Now I use online banking and that solves most of my problems, though every now and then, I inexplicably go online and pay a bill, subsequently throwing myself into overdraft because it was already paid. Sometimes I look back at my check registers and it looks like a crazy person wrote in them. They don’t make sense! I could go on and on, but sure enough, lesson has been learned: I am no longer impatient with older people, (most of the time) and I feel blessed to have the capabilities I do have.

Last, but not least, is my spiritual life. I have paid dearly for my awareness of spiritual laws and not honoring them. This summer I have been left three red-tail hawk feathers, which I truly have wondered about. At Sacred Circle Mandalas, Sue O’Kieffe’s site for nature-inspired and incredibly beautiful art, I read what she wrote about hawks on her blog, quoting: Sayadha, Animal Totems:

Hawk signifies union with Great Spirit. A bird of the heavens, the hawk orchestrates the changes necessary for our spiritual growth. Having this totem can be bittersweet. If we accept its presence in our life we will be asked to surrender anything that doesn’t honor the integrity of all life, be it an idea, a feeling or an action. Although hard work is involved, the rewards the hawk offers us are great.

Okay, and couldn’t have said it better myself. And I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s.

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Pam Bickell is a deeply gifted writer who decided to make us wait for her stories and reflections for 57 years, probably because we weren’t ready for her. But now we are, so it’s high time to head over to Pam’s riveting Notes Along the Path blog.

Hawk photo: Symbolic Meanings