What Counts At Age 86

The older I get the more I realize that what really matters at any age is relationships. I like to think of them as being horizontally to the human and vertically to the divine. At the same time, in either relationship it is easy to let what seems more important get in the way of keeping connected. Like just plain aging.

At 86, personal ablutions take more and more time. I used to say. "I'll hop in the shower." Loved it. Now a shower takes balance I don't have and bending I'm very bad at. Dressing up with support hose is a chore. I've abandoned mascara since I can't see well enough to hit an eyelash.

I like to pretend personality can make up for the beautiful shoes I loved wearing as I pull on my orthodics with lots of padding to ease my ailing foot into the world. My skin that used to love a tan now has purple splotches at any exposure. Getting on my knees for a prayer I might manage, but the getting up is a killer.

Every morning I reach for my glasses and one hearing aid before answering a phone or bringing in the papers. The obituaries get my attention even before the letters to the editor or political cartoon as I report to my husband, who's making our healthy juice to launch us into the day of being out of the obits.

In my horizontal relationships when I'm languishing with concern for a grown grandson's mental illness or my husband's minor cancer surgery, a phone call from a friend or a calming of my anguish by the gentle power I've prayed to in the night can alter my most urgent needs.

In the same way, being a greeter at my Mormon Sunday service is like handling joy in every handshake, let alone hugs. The old, the in between, and the very young offer their spirits to elevate mine.

Just so with a gathering of 20 of my fourth daughter's book club friends, all to chat with me about my new book, "The Place of Knowing, A Spiritual Autobiography." We listen to each other. They stay until 1 a.m. to fill me in on their stories and give reason to relish being together.

Sharing the grief of a friend losing her husband or another losing her eyesight keeps me humble and grateful still to have both and them as my friends. My old tennis buddies still get us together for lunch even two years after my splat on my left hip running for my favorite wide backhand. Though the fall meant a remake of my hip and sadness in no return to that court, we now laugh about the years together and of getting to where my latest word to my younger partner was "Yours!"

A group of friends from my husband's Brigham High school years are thinning out, but they still appear mostly at funerals, sometimes weddings, now at planned gatherings when we show up for a heart-felt, smiling visit. And recently I had a 70th reunion for my class of '41 from East High School in Salt Lake City. Of the 645 who graduated together, 70 showed up for lunch. Some we hadn't seen for 70 years. The invitation: "Canes, walkers, and wheelchairs allowed. We are survivors thankful and proud." And we were. As we reminisced and talked about "used to," we smiled and were glad. No longer faces cut from the yearbook on our nametags to help us remember, we mingled and were renewed feeling for sure like more than the thankful oldies we had become. Hooray for us. And for friends who last beyond any planned reunion, who simply care what in the world we're about.

And then there's the vertical. My divine friend in one of my favorite scriptures sees from the cross his friend John standing near his beloved mother. Jesus, caring to the end, says to his friend almost with his last breath, "Behold thy mother." And his friend takes her into his home to live.

That same comfort is available to me. My Mormon faith has engendered this assurance into my pores. Years ago when our oldest of five daughters suffered for three years from a scary episode of manic depression and bulimia, I was serving on a General Board responsible for a program for thousands at a conference in Salt Lake City. With a musician friend on the same committee I wrote words to a hymn that spoke of my desperation and affirmed my belief in asking "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" and my reply, "He answers privately, reaches my reaching, in my Gethsemane, Savior and friend." With professional help. medication, and her own faith, our daughter did get well, married and has a life of being a friend to others with the same problems.

Thank you, my friends who make aging OK, vertically and horizontally. For touching my life in a thousand ways. Especially at 86 you color my days and nights and give balance to whatever comes. Relationships? Please.