Strengthening the Heart

I am grateful for my grandmother’s approach to old age as a natural force, rather than a stage to combat.”

Pat Taub, “How Did We Become So Obsessed with Aging?” – Blog: Women’s Older Wisdom

Two weeks ago, old age was turning out to be a “stage to combat,” as my second case of shingles refused to give up and scram. I was awash in “What if?” What if I were to be one of those who had this pain for the rest of my life? It happens.

I had planned a four-hour trip to visit my sister and brother-in-law at beautiful Green Lake, but I chickened out when the future was so uncertain and driving in pain didn’t sound like much fun. “What if?” won out.

The pain did indeed go away – completely – and I was reminded once again that “What if?” can often be a terrible question.

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

Carlos Castenada

A week after I had made myself miserable by giving in to fear, the pain was gone. I grew braver. I was finally ready to make the long-awaited trip out through the country, to find the people that I love.

Being geographically challenged, I had three sets of directions on hand for any emergency: MapQuest’s printed pages (all routes and distances circled in royal purple); an old and over-used, Scotch-taped Minnesota road map, folded to just show my area of travel (all routes highlighted in yellow!); and my WAZE app on my phone. Do I have an unreasonable fear of getting lost? Yes, yes, I do.

I was off at 11:07, M&M’s and Diet Mountain Dew (ugh!) within easy reach so I wouldn’t get sleepy. (I know, disgusting choices, but they work…)

I knew the first half of the trip like the back of my hand, and the rest was all new. Two hours in, when the time came to turn on my WAZE, I took a deep breath and turned my attention to what was all around me: rich farm country, deep blue skies, corn and soybeans now turned beige and ready for harvest, two-lane highways and little country villages. I could see for miles. It was glorious!

My heart was light and I inhaled all that lay before me. I had not traveled this far for two years, and I did not feel a moment of stress or tiredness, much to my surprise. I was in charge. Body, mind and spirit were alive and alert and glad.

My three days with Chris and Bill, who are only 72, were balm for the soul. Reminiscing began almost immediately. We ate lightly and gabbed and laughed heartily. There were quiet times. Bill was rebuilding their front deck, and we were hesitantly climbing over exposed beams to get to the water. We had our perfect sunny evening and calm waters to have the mandatory pontoon ride. Chris gave my post-cancer wavy short hair a trim and Bill filled me in on the 20-year history of a mission to a secondary school in Tanzania that he has spearheaded. All of it was just as it should be. We are good family.

On the trip back, my WAZE offered me another route that took me through some small cities, and it was good to see bustling communities in farm country. Again, I felt free from the shackles of hesitancy. I was embracing the big old world in a renewed way.

And coming home had a new grace to it this time. The long journey, taken bravely, always comes to an end eventually. The world and my aged, 80-year-old presence in it felt like a “natural force” to me again. Leaving home and returning had became a strengthening of the heart.

And I’m very okay with that.