Sunday, March 25, 2018

At Seventy - month one


I began this book on my 70th birthday, February 25. May Sarton's journal begins on her 70th birthday, May 3, 1982. I thought it would be fun to read the thoughts of someone exactly my age as I go through this year. I was going to try to read the corresponding entry every day but decided instead I would read the month she was in while I am in it.

Her life as she begins her first year of her seventies is quite different from mine. She is unmarried, lives alone, has no children, and is a renowned author. Yet she is a woman, she loves to garden, she is a reader, and we are the same age.

She doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the age she is, just as I don't, but sometimes it pops up in her writing.
What is it like to be seventy? If someone else had lived so long and could remember things sixty years ago with great clarity, she would seem very old to me. But I do not feel old at all, not as much a survivor as a person still on her way. I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to the surprises that any day may bring.
Isn't this just wonderful? If I'd read this at 20, I would think, "that's just how I want to feel when I'm old!" And I do. I think the "old" word still startles me a bit. I'll be reading along in a book when someone is referred to as "old" or "elderly" and I am amazed the person is my age or even younger. It is all so relative, isn't it? When I turned 50, my son Michael gave me a mug that said, "older than dirt." I'm hoping to give it back to him on his 50th in 2035!

The month before her birthday, May Sarton did poetry readings, and a talk about old age, in which she said:
"This is the best time of my life. I love being old. ... Because I am more myself than I have ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced, and (I heard myself say rather aggressively) more powerful." I felt it was rather an odd word, "powerful," but I think it is true. It might have been more accurate to say "I am better able to use my powers." I am surer of what my life is all about, have less self-doubt to conquer ...
I feel much the same way though that good feeling has come from the arrival of these grandchildren. I was never a woman who worked outside the house. Luckily we could get along on one salary, and I didn't have to. But I've never been ambitious or had other things I wanted to do. My whole mantra of living is that it isn't what you do, but who you are. It wasn't easy sometimes. I know that some people thought I wasn't quite enough because I didn't have a career. Though I knew that my "career" was taking care of my children. I wasn't bored or despairing of the time I spent with them. And now, there are these little ones who bring a very different kind of joy to my life. My kids didn't think I was a goddess, but I sure feel like it sometimes when their kids come running out of a house to greet me, calling, "Nana, Nana." Or when Hazel crawled into bed with me one early morning she came in the house and I had just woken up, and said, "I love you, Nana." I remember saying when I wrote about watching A Child's Christmas in Wales after two of the three kids had been born that "This might be the last great gift of a lifetime - the grandchild (or great-grandchild) who hangs on your every word." And I said that I now understand the tender look on the grandfather's face when he sees his grandson sleeping. "The love, the amazing, amazing love for a grandchild is in his eyes."

After a busy month, involving much gardening, May says,
This garden is really too demanding for me at this stage in my life, but I know I shall never be able to restrict myself there. It has to be accepted that gardening is a madness, a folly that does not go away with age. Quite the contrary.
Yes, that is me alright. I wrote a few years ago about cutting back on the vegetable garden, and one year growing no veg at all, and then going back to a new garden in a new place. I think about it all winter, what I want to grow and where I want to put all those daylilies that must be divided. And there again the grandchildren come into my thoughts. I want them to see that their grandparents are still growing things, just as their younger parents are. I want them to know that being older doesn't mean you stop, though you might slow some, and might sit down while they are playing. But you, my dear readers, might enjoy seeing Tom and I run, yes, run around the house playing various roles that Hazel assigns us, or playing games with Campbell and Indy. Yes, we are tired when they go home, but not ever are we those grandparents who say that the best thing about having grandchildren is that they go home. How we absolutely hate that saying. I could see them every day and still feel a little sad when they go out the door!

I'll close this first month of being seventy with some words May wrote at the end of her month.
I sometimes feel old these days when I am suddenly made aware of the little time ahead. It came to me with a sharp pang when I found myself saying, as I have done every spring for years, Houseman's
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room
About the woodland I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
But I have at most ten or fifteen springs! Is that possible? Almost a lifetime gone. On the other side though, what I do have is seventy springs in my head, and they flow back with all their riches now.
I'm really enjoying this book, and it is good for me to travel along with May during this year.

50 comments:

  1. Adore May Sarton. Discovered her in my late 30's, have read all but her poetry. Responded well to the depth of her feelings, myriad layers. With infertility, no children myself. A life filled with interests, activity, choices. No, 'free love', from grandchildren. Instead, a quiet awareness decades ago to create a life rich in love, upon chapters, layers, outside the 'normal' societal realms, etc....

    Always fit in, best, at church with the gay contingent. None had kids. Perfect match. They remain tribe.

    Zero wish for a different life or grandchildren. Accepting what G*d gave, in joy. 2 decades from first discovering May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep.

    Career, no kids for me. Please, never again, apologize for being a stay at home mom. That is a career !!

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

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    1. NOT apologizing at all!! I'm proud and happy to have done what I did. Thanks for coming by and leaving a note. Your comment made me happy for the life you live!!

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  2. A very interesting post, Nan. I will be 70 this year, in November. Although my body definitely feels older, it is still hard to realize how old I am. Based on this post, I think you and May Sarton have more energy than I do, but I do out to a job every weekday, so I come home tired at the end of the day. I am very ready to retire.

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    1. Going to work is way more energy than I could expend right now!!

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  3. I love this post. We are close in age and Sarton's book appeals to me. I must add that I like your header photo, very peaceful.

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    1. Thank you! Tom took the picture while he and Lucy were on a wheeler ride up the hill in the woods. I think it is just a perfect shot.

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  4. Nan, I didn't relaise we were so similar (though I should have guessed) in that neither of us have had a career outside the home and not wanted one. Like you we managed, just about, on one salary. For me, raising our two girls to be good people was enough and now we're doing as much to help with our two grandchildren as we can. Just back from a weekend in Aberystwyth, taking our 17 year old grand-daughter, Ruth, to look at the uni there. Her parents couldn't take her, her dad has CFS and her mum was working so off we went with her and it was a wonderful weekend. I loved doing it. We do it all again in a few weeks with Swansea uni and I can't wait. A few weeks ago it was Portsmouth and my younger daughter and her partner stepped up and took Ruth. Family is all to us and I feel it stems from their childhood. I'm not quite seventy yet but I feel I should look out this book. Fabulous post, Nan.

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    1. Oh, Cath, thank you for your words. "Family is all to us"- yes, that is just how we feel. We are thankful every day that our kids stayed nearby. I'm not sure I'll be able to go on a college visit in 13 years, but who knows? Why not?

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  5. This was lovely, Nan! And I know you have enjoyed your children and your grandchildren so very much. I'm 10 years younger than you and, no, I don't feel old. Honestly, I feel somewhat younger than I have in a long time, especially when I compare myself to what I remember of my grandmothers in their early 60's. They seemed very old to me. However, both lived into their 90's. Improving my health this last year has been a big part of things, but I'm like you when I read about characters my age or even younger who are referred to as 'elderly'. Seriously? Ha! And as grandchildren seem more and more unlikely to be part of our world, we are fashioning a different sort of 'retirement' time. :-)

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    1. As you know, we were never those people who desperately longed for grandchildren. We were just happy that our kids were nearby and that we got to see them a lot. I truly believe that you don't miss what you don't have. I didn't 'miss' having a Labrador before Lucy, but now I can't imagine not having one in my life. You two have a million things in your life that you do and that you love. You, too, have your daughter close by and that is so wonderful. I need to model your health scheme. My eating is good but I must get more exercise.

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  6. I love Sarton's journals because she is observant and reflective about the world arround her and her own interior world. She had a rich inner life. I am an introvert and appreciate her need for and enjoyment of her solitude. I always find her journals candid about her struggles and human imperfections. She has helped me vision how to age well.

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    1. I like your word 'candid' - she really is, isn't she. I'm an introvert, too. I like my quiet time. I was happy to read somewhere that introvert and shy aren't the same thing. I'm not shy. I'm comfortable with people, but I don't thrive on social situations. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  7. Years ago, I read several of May Sarton's journals and those of Doris Grumbach. I remember little incidents from both, but I really should reread some of them. I will be 70 this year, and what I read 20-25 years ago and enjoyed thoroughly--will now have more depth and resonance for me. Thanks for this review and reminder!

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    1. I've heard the name Doris Grumbach, but now I will go look her up. Thanks Jen for mentioning her. Happy to know you are a fellow 1948-er!

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    2. Jenclair, I looked up DG, and found she also has a book about turning 70 so I bought a used copy on ebay! Thank you! And she is still alive. Born in 1918!

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  8. I love the quote about looking forward rather than back as we age. I think I do that but, every once in a while like when my daughter turned 43 this month, I find myself saying and thinking, "where did those years go?" I've really had an adventurous, fun life so I have few regrets.

    Thanks for sharing Nan.

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    1. Hey, you aren't old enough to have a 43 year old!!

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  9. What a gift this book is to celebrate your 70th year. You always find the best books.

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. I've known about it for years. Just waiting for the right time! :<))

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  10. What a touching post! I did talk to my Mum when she turned 70 a few years ago, about what iit meant for her and how she felt, and that was a conversation I will never forget, either. I have started my first week of being 50, and I feel very good about it, too.

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    1. Thank you! If you have a minute sometime maybe you could email me with some of your mum's thoughts, if not too personal. 50 is a great age!

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  11. Definitely the right book at the right time Nan. I admire your ability to 'sync' your reading to your life.
    I'm proud of my age (almost a decade older than you) but am still excited about what comes next! I do joke with Bill that he does the planning and I create the memories for later, with pictures and blog posts, but I'm definitely not ready to sit in my rocker and read about past adventures. . I do so hate when books and news articles refer to people -- sometimes closer to my kids' age -- as 'elderly' or 'old'. (My daughter turned 58 last month.)

    I enjoyed the comment thread about introverts (who are not necessarily shy) ... I think I'm an outgoing introvert... I like people, but am just as happy alone doing quiet things ... and I need that kind of time.
    Did you read the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking"? Or maybe you were the one who recommended it -- I tend to lose track of where I hear about good books.

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    1. No, I didn't read it, but I should! I loved your comment. Thank you, as always. Your enthusiasm for life comes right through your blog!

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  12. So beautiful.
    Had me hooked.
    An absolute pleasure to read.

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  13. Read this about ten or fifteen years ago, when I was too young....Now I am older than 70! I wonder how your grandchildren pronounce "Nana"? Mine say it with long "a"s like the ones in "father". But some people say it like "Nan" which is your name, after all.....

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    1. Yup, it's like my name, and in fact, Hazel will occasionally call me "Nan"! Isn't the Indian bread naan pronounce like you pronounce Nana??

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  14. Hey there ... I've enjoyed reading all the responses to this post. I'm way over 70 now, but I still identify with a lot of what you all are saying. I was always a working-outside-the-home wife and mother and when I retired I embrassed it with 100% of my energy ... I love being alone and spend my time reading and writing. Nan I do want to recommend a May Sarton book to you, one I have loved a long time. Written in 1957, The Fur Person. An especially wonderful little book for anyone who loves animals.

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    1. Thank you for your words, Jill. I remember seeing The Fur Person in an old friend's home. Thank you for reminding me, and I'll look for it.

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  15. What a wonderful project! I had a book with a year of nature writing excerpts that I read every day on the right day for a year and really enjoyed that. And what a full and blessed life you lead.

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    1. It is a fun way of reading! And thank you for what you wrote.

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  16. First of all may I belatedly wish you a very happy 70th birthday. You do sound so happy with your life. I have just finished May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude in which she seemed to have a very tempestuous emotional life so I am relieved to hear that she was content at 70. I am grateful to be able to run around with a grand-daughter that I was not expecting to have so soon because I was late to motherhood and now I'm looking forward to the next one and hoping that my energy levels hold up!

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    1. Oh, thanks for coming by and leaving a note! I've just added you blog to my blog list! I think your energy levels will 'hold up' - I find the little ones actually give me energy! Must be the endorphins! I'm tired after they go but while they are here, I can keep up!

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  17. I am a 40-something mother with a job, and I wish I could devote more of my time to my children. Society expects us to be both full-time mothers and full-time workers, and it looks down on us if we don't fulfill both of those roles, even though there's not enough time in the day. So we do what we can, to the best of our abilities, and we hope that by the time we are seventy we have come to terms with the fact that we could not be in two places at once. I really enjoyed your post. Happy 70th Birthday!

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    1. Thank you for your good wishes, and for your own story. Man, I could write many blog posts about society's expectations of mothers. You just have to believe in yourself, and your way. It will all be fine. Your kids know you love them, and, as the Beatles said, love really is all you need. Thanks for coming by.

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  18. What a beautiful post! So much of what you, and May, said resonates with me. I’m turning 70 in January, and am looking forward to reading At Seventy throughout that year, also.

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    1. Thank you, Robin. You are beginning that age in very good physical condition! I am so impressed by all you do.

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  19. Ah, thanks, Nan. I am so lucky to have found my 83-year-old friend/mentor who has taught me the joys of walking/running (I walk, she runs) at this age/stage. Watching her passion for running has given me the perspective that you're never to old to start! My knees immediately said no to running, but the whole of me loves the power walking! The next challenge for me is to figure out how to make sure I continue along this journey even without her...she's moving to Arizona soon!

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    1. Oh, too bad. You will miss her. Do you mind walking alone? How about listening to books?

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  20. Fascinating post made even more interesting by all the comments! I read May Sarton about thirty years ago, Journal of a Solitude I think. I might look this one out. I am sixty three now and really don't feel old at all unless I try to do something physical and find I can't manage it. Like you I love the privilege of grandchildren. We have nine now and I think one or two of my friends without grandchildren think that having so many must make the whole thing quite commonplace. Not at all. It is wonderful, and the differences between them all are wonderful too.

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    1. So good to see you! I so love what you wrote about grandchildren! And I agree with what you said about the comments - one of the best things about blogging!

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  21. "I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to the surprises that any day may bring." I love this quote! I have several friends turning 70 this year and they are very youthful and active. I never feel my age and am happy looking forward for many decades yet. I adore my granddaughter (who will be 16 this summer) and would love for another, but if it doesn't happen it's not the end of the world. I hope to find a copy of this book before I turn 70. It sounds lovely!

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    1. I've just added another to read during this year by Doris Grumbach, recommended by Jenclair. I def feel my age some days, but never when I'm with the little ones! Hey, it is very possible you might have a great-grand someday! I don't think I will get there, but who knows.

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    2. You are so right about the possibility of becoming a great-grandmother someday. I haven't even thought about that, but Shay will certainly be old enough in a decade, so I'll still be alive and kickin' (I hope!). That would be great!

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  22. I think you always have an affinity to the place you grew up as a child. An American friend who's father was in the air force and travelled all over feels that she does not have roots anywhere, her fondest memories are of the three years she spent in Aldeburgh , Suffolk. I think I would like to read Jacob's Room.

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    1. For me, that would be such a hard life, having no 'real' home. Of course, a home is where your family is, but still a place can be very important to some people.

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  23. Happy belated birthday. I love the dialogue in your post between your own thoughts on 70 and May Sarton's, and how you find observations that resonate between you. I like what I've read of May Sarton - her Journal of a Solitude and her lovely, intimate poem, "A Light Left On."

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    1. Thanks so much! Thanks also for your words. And so nice to see you.

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