It isn’t easy, but it’s very satisfying, to change from a human doing to a human being. There haven’t been many moments in my past life when I was a human being, but I remember them clearly. Once, as a young teenager, I lay in a hammock at my grandparents’ cottage on Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire, and I watched the sun dance off the leaves and needles of the trees above me. I wasn’t thinking about doing anything then, nor did I think about what I should be doing when I sat on rocks in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and watched the ocean water crash below me, creating swirls of foam. I lost all sense of time. But that didn’t happen very often.
In the past, I’ve prided myself on how many tasks I could take on in a day. For example, I would write a column, do the laundry, and decorate the house for the holidays. Friends and colleagues were initially shocked at how productive I was, and then it became expected. I was a multi-tasker who could be counted on to deliver what was requested, not just on time, but in perfect order. I was an excellent human doer. But I was not very good at the “being” part of the human experience. Smoking pot or drinking Chardonnay were the only things that interrupted the drum beat in my head; I eventually had to give those up because they were causing more problems than solutions.
Now I am getting very good at just being. It took me a while to let go of trying to save the world. I got very antsy without a project, feeling that my days were a waste of time, and that professionally I was retired. With time, it became okay not to know what day of the week it was. Now, it’s possible for me to sit on the sofa and slowly take in the sights of the art and furnishings around me. I can swim without planning dinner. I can focus on the center of the double blossom red hibiscus and not feel it has to have meaning beyond my experience of its beauty.
Some of the things I’ve become very aware of after 38 years with Ray are how extraordinarily kind he is to me, and of how much of his life is devoted to making me happy. My mind has been preoccupied on creating a well-functioning, comfortable, and happy life for us. I used to wake up daily with a list of things to do. It’s hard to really experience the love of another person when your attention is focused on things to do.
Recently, a nephew, niece and their two children came for a week’s visit. The youngest was six months old. Having lost two siblings in that age range, I’ve busied myself in the past when I was around infants, but this time I allowed myself to sit and hold this precious little girl, and to be quite content just watching her eyes move around the room. I knew my job was to make her comfortable, which I did, but I gave myself the experience of just being with her. In doing so, I felt like I did in the hammock and on the rocks. I didn’t know what time it was. I was lost in the moment.
In my youth, I heard the wise counsel to live each day as if it was your first and your last. I was too busy then to pay much attention to the advice that my day should be filled with the awe of discovery and the gratitude of awareness. Today, I understand and embrace the truth that others tried to give me then so that I didn’t waste my youth. I know that my life experiences were normal for people my age, but I wish I had been more aware and appreciative of what I was experiencing. I wish I hadn’t been so focused on doing.
There are many plusses about aging. You worry less about competing. You often have the means not to be dependent upon the approval of others. You give yourself permission to color outside the lines, to break rules, and create your own schedules. But one of the most precious gifts of aging is the opportunity it provides to change yourself from a human doer to a person who can sit and accomplish nothing of value to others. It’s been referred to as the time for bucket lists, smelling the roses, and wearing more purple. But even then, you are being given a list of expectations of things to do.
This reminds me of a poster I once saw that said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks. And sometimes I just sits.” I’m very grateful to be able to just sit.