It was the day before Halloween. The sky befittingly gray, the temperature a cool 53 or so. I left my house mid-afternoon to take in the air, the day – and to tack on a few more steps because everything counts! As I headed out, away from my house, my suburban neighborhood slowly evolved into an as-yet undeveloped piece of country. A horse and donkey, companions for years, dawdled in an open field as the bluebirds – en masse – fluttered overhead. I passed the tiny, sort of-white cottage as I always do, neat and tidy but clearly in need of repair. Many, many walks before I had noticed a small, faded note on the old door. In four years of walks, I had never seen any sign of life at that house, and so I imagined that its last occupant was off living with a relative or waiting out their days in a nursing home. Such is imagination, no?
But this time, I had to look twice because there was someone walking toward the trashcan at the side of the house. She wore loose pajamas and a stocking cap as she leaned on her cane, compensating for a severely hunched back.
“Hello! I have never seen you before!” I said in a big but friendly voice as I smiled at her.
She looked at me, returned my smile, shrugged her shoulders and simply said, “Just old!”
I would have stopped, chatted, but she kept moving, set on her task. I had to respect that despite my inclinations otherwise.
I soon found myself thinking about the breakfast I had had with a new, dear friend. S and I connected from the get-go. One book club conversation in and we knew we’d be friends. She’s 15 years my junior, which hardly matters except when we are counting gray hairs! We were working through our omelets, talking about this curious and inevitable business of aging when S shared a story about her late grandmother’s words to her:
“One day I looked in the mirror and thought: ‘Who is this person?’ She is so old. I sat with that for a minute and thought but I am still me. I am old, but I am still me. Don’t forget that. You will always be you.”
All the while I am sitting there in my leopard print jeans over my small but undeniable muffin top, purple fingernails and studded black booties. I know I am no longer 15, 25, 35, 45…. I am where I am chronologically and YES I am very much still here and still me.
As I ventured back on my return route home, I passed that little house again, surmising that its occupant was now safely ensconced inside. But this time, I noticed something I hadn’t before – a carved pumpkin in the tiny sunroom, facing the road. Okay, maybe it wasn’t hand carved, it was more likely plastic. But it gave me pause. It made me wonder if this old woman’s pumpkin was a tiny but mighty nod to who she was, who she had always been – a “still me” affirmation.
Here’s to every-single-thing that you do, and I do, and S does, and that old woman does to honor and express who we have always been. Hold fast to that and never let go.