Monday, 16 March 2009


At my annual medical checkup this year, my doctor informed me that, given my present medical stats, my lifestyle and commitment to healthy living, my family history of longevity, current medical advances, and barring any ugly surprises, I could probably expect to live another 40 or even 50 years.

Needless to say, I walked out of that appointment on a John Denver high. I know, poor example. Or is it? Because, in fact, our lives, long or short, healthy or otherwise, are primarily under our own control. Fifty, forty, even thirty years is a whole other lifetime. So I began to think, if I were to assume that all those years are ahead of me, how would I want to live them?

Like many woman my age, we occasionally reflect on our past lives, what we would have changed, how we could have done a better job as wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Dysfunctional is a modern social term. Frankly I think it is a very inadequate and damaging word. Along with words like happy, unhappy, successful, unsuccessful, it is meaningless and vague, with as many different definitions as there are individuals, and even then the meanings, like us, continue to evolve. Tolstoy wrote that all happy families are happy in the same way; unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I prefer to revise the line such that all families are both happy and unhappy in ways unique to themselves.

We become experts at revisionist history, especially our own history. And that is how we multiply the lives we have lived and continue to overlap them with our present selves. It is also how we bury the demons and nurture the best parts of our lives into manageable memories, to help us moving forward. To be honest with myself, if I had it to do all over, I would change many parts of my past life. But, as Lear said, “That way lies madness.” Instead I find myself returning to a new refrain. How do I want to live my “second life?”

I begin by examining those elements of my life that are under my control. What I eat and drink. How much I exercise. Who I spend time with. How I spend my personal time. What projects, challenges I want to explore. Where I want to travel. How I want to share time with my family. How best to be a mother at a distance, and a grandmother at hand.

Suddenly the task of living this second life becomes full of questions and decisions. Perhaps the lingering regrets of parts of my first life are a result of having lived it carelessly and casually, taking so much for granted. Like the euphoria of stock market gains, we think the good times will never end. These glorious children will always be children. Income streams will continue to rise. Love and passion will never abate.

Clich├ęs have their place as short forms to thinking, if only to help us get a head start on the program of living forward. Today is the first day…etc. How can I make each day valuable and productive? What is my idea of a good day? I will assemble a repertoire of moments that have given me pleasure; stock my portfolio with those occasions that provide the best returns; set manageable daily goals and create my own “Happiness Project”, living a life henceforth of least regrets. A daunting task, all this, but one I am fortunate to be able to begin. It may not be the road less travelled; on the contrary, I am hoping I will find many kindred “seconds” and even “thirds” along the way.


20th Century Woman said...

My father lived to be 90, and he lived his life as though it would never end. That has disadvantages. It can make you careless. My mother lived to be 100. She, like Shakespeare's cowards, who "die many times before their deaths..." was constantly anticipating disaster. That not only made her over cautious, but caused her to fret a lot about who would get her little bit of money and things when she died. No one can know how much time is left. I have the genes, and I have the health. I'd like to find some happy compromise between my parents' extremes for the way I live out my time.

Marylou said...

I agree with you...and so did the Greeks...They called it "The Middle Way"...nothing to excess, except slurpy kisses from grandchildren...and request for recipes that only a grandmother can provide from the family archives...Thank you for your wise comments...

Darlene said...

Nearing the age of 84 I no longer plan for a long list of tomorrows, but am grateful for each today.

I also do not mull over past regrets. The past is over and nothing can change it. If I can learn anything from the past, it is to be less materialistic, more forgiving and to enjoy the moment.

Marylou said...

Your life lessons are valuable, ditto, ditto, and ditto...thank you for responding...Ml...

Wisewebwoman said...

I've been following your post-philosophy about not missing a sunset - I haven't missed too many in 2009. I also send out tons of handwritten cards of my own making. And knit for others.
I cherish my friends more than I ever have as we've lost far too many.
And I feel blessed I've lived this long and can be with my beloved grandgirl and have fun.
I was feeling so down and your post lifted me. Thanks Marylou.

June Saville said...

I would join you in this task Marylou, but such control may be elusive. We do what we can, and plan what we may.
Thanks for following 70 Plus and Still Kicking..

Starzz said...

So happy to read another one of your insightful posts. You are an inspiration.

Thanks Marylou

midlife slices said...

I'm so happy you sent me the tweet so I'd find you and get to know you through your writings. My husband's parents are both 93 years of age and my Dad is 84 so I've been doing a lot of thinking along the same lines as you've written in this post. I've had to make some changes in my life when I suddenly realized I wasn't going to live forever, and I couldn't eat or drink anything I wanted and put off exercising. I'm 52 and my husband is 63 and right now we're in Taos, NM snow skiing. I think life is what you make it, and I've decided to make it fun and full of adventure. Can't wait to read more and follow along on your bloggy journey.