Aging into Something New

I was sitting at the pool in Borgo a Mozzano just outside of Lucca with Lino yesterday. We had decided to talk about the funk we each felt we were in. I had set out to rewrite my chapter called "Leaps of Faith," but with the physical feeling of having lead sitting in my intestinal tract, who could begin? So instead, we inadvertently began a kind of meditative duet, shifting to sitting with our feelings of downwardness until one of us started to talk. Recently, we had been through changes and moves and the wonderful wedding and marriage of our son. We were happy for him, but all of these life passages meant we were growing older.

Yes, I am taking care of health needs. Vegetables and exercise and Omega fatty acids are my friends, though we are not as close as I am with pasta -- after all, I am in Italy. So, excuse my distraction; I was on my way to telling you about something of an epiphany that came out of sinking into yuck.

There are so many facets to aging, so much advice to be taken or at least given, so much advice that sounds happy but doesn't feel right. So we sat, until we started somehow to speak, actually one at a time. I told Lino about a relaxation massage with someone I knew fairly well, during which I had begun to talk about my past fears of death and the psychological sense I've had from time to time of having actually felt dead or suffocated -- emotionally -- as a kid. Winnicott, the famous British psychoanalyst who first wrote about the true self and the false self and was an inspiration for Alice Miller, had a well-known clinical paper called "Fear of Breakdown." In it, he described how the fear of a terrible or traumatic experience -- even of a mental breakdown -- can signify the memory of that experience earlier in life. What has always seemed compelling about this notion was that if we can help a person see that the feared experience already happened, some of the fear can be reduced.

So, I told Lino I was just then starting to feel that perhaps some old conflicts about deadening my personality were at play. We began to talk about how we had this in common; we were and are both fiery and mischievous, sometimes rebellious people who seem readier to dance than most people we know of any age. So then, there is that and the fact that we have sometimes conspired to blame each other for a sense of blandness, dullness and even suffocation. I know, it is what I write about, the deadly and dangerous trends of blame and even demonizing others, and I know how often it happens in marriage. And so now I, too, have to work at this part, that has to do with getting mixed up between getting dead and getting older.

Lino and I met when I was 20, in Bari, one of the less romantic places in Italy, and we fought our way to see if we could make a relationship work with summers and letters and living together, at least supported by my knowing Italian from Brooklyn College. But then it wasn't always as romantic as people imagined, since we wanted completion with each other. I, one of the most complicated people I know, fancied I would be happiest making pasta daily in a small Southern Italian town where everyone knew just about everything about everyone. And yet at the same time, over the years as we grew into ourselves, we have so very often felt fortunate, with our fun and our depth and our caring and sharing, and our children and our traveling.

But it never gets simpler for long, at least for us, since one big separation triggers remnants and reminders from others. So, there is much to be faced with our recent moves and Paul's marriage and being in transition and getting older.

But really, already, back to the pool. I offered up that perhaps we were both suffering from some guilt and conflict about whether we could get older our way, which in our case might be to get more in touch with our younger and vital aspects. I looked into his still gorgeous, twinkly eyes and said, "You know we may have to fight to get back, to get through, to our mischief and our silliness." He smiled, saying yes, and he was feeling lighter.

For here was something, the idea of getting young -- not going through a regime to become something that we are not, but getting back something that not only was, but is. There is something inside of each of us and of us together that we need to seek, and this, for us, can be part of growing into something new. Yes, we may have to go to battle to some extent to reach it, and in the meantime, we might find some treasures not yet mined.

The talking got us to this realization. I can't say it felt like any leap with fanfare, not even a dive off the diving board. But it felt hopeful; it reminded me that faith can include processes of exploring our very lack of faith, that can even lead to some magic -- to both understanding and change.

So, I know, without the impatience that forces intimacy away, nor with complete passivity, that we will be at this. It may be part of my mischief or rebellion, but this part of getting older seems like it could be liberating, for us and many others with the idea of reclaiming parts of ourselves we can still use -- with or without a cane.