Essay Non-Fiction posted November 7, 2013

This work has reached the exceptional level
Accepting a new and final rite of passage, aging.

Do I Need to Wear Purple?

by maggieadams

No photos were snapped, no congratulatory gifts or cards were given at this momentous rite of passage. I didn't prepare myself nor project that I would arrive at this marker-the final season of one's life. Where did all the years go? I never saw it a sneaker wave, powerful emotions washed over me as I sat across from the Social Security administrator.

"I am here just to shop, to see if I should, um, well, not really sure if it is the right time, if I am ready," I muttered.

"Wouldn't it be easier," the young clerk affably replied, "if we could know for sure when we were going to die?"

As I left the cold brick building and climbed into my summer-heated car, a chill crept through me as I realized I was entering the final chapter of my life. How, I asked myself, did all the chapters unfold so quickly? Like a Russian-nesting doll, the many chapters in my life are encapsulated, one inside the other. The engaging college girl, the hopeful bride, and the busy mother-they are all there tightly nestled inside one another. The outer doll is now full, full of wisdom and resolve, deriving strength from those intertwined lives.

I came of age before Roe v. Wade, integrated gender dorms and Title IX. I was caught between two worlds: The "Leave it to Beaver" world and the emerging feminist movement of burning bras and equal rights. I was shaped by the angst of Vietnam and the restless '60s generation, who were often reckless in seeking their own happiness. We were the Baby Boomers forging ahead with lives, some stuck in the past, some experimenting where no man had ever tread, but all of us were becoming more and more liberated. Liberation was confusing. I often felt trapped between the two worlds, one based on traditional family values and the other based on the liberated world of too many choices.

Sometimes the intertwined chapters of childhood, the innocence and goodness, collided with the realities and complexities of adulthood. Life knocked us down a few times and showed us things we never wanted to see, but finally, most gained a much-needed perspective. We take our lives in chunks, in fragments of time, looking back with longing, with "what-ifs" and "whys." We find it difficult to live in the present and to accept what life has handed us. In our final season, our last chapter, we come to fully understand this universal truth: life is difficult.

Life is difficult because we want it to be easy. As young adults, we experienced life, but we lacked life-experience. Much like learning a foreign language, we were not willing to conjugate the past to make sense of its power, nor diagram the future to see its reward. Like all past generations, we had no Rosetta Stone. We loved and parented by the proverbial seat of our pants. But now we Baby Boomers have arrived. Deciphering the complexities and cracking the code, we have finally become fluent.

Perhaps that is what landed me in the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's class at my athletic club-a need to practice life, a need to become more fluent. At the end of the class, the journalist Tom Hallman left us with this truth: "If you don't share or tell your story, it will be buried with you and in several generations, it will be forgotten." That resonated and summoned courage...

With certainty, I know I have more days to travel in this life; I know I have more paths to explore and more forks in the road. For sure, I have more tennis to play, more holidays to share and more roses to smell. As I sit on my deck, surrounded by a lush cornucopia of color with the sun dangling just above the horizon, I ponder this new rite of passage. The passage into what, exactly, I really can't say, for there is no longer any protocol for "old age." I can still wear my brightly colored skinny jeans, even in purple, if I choose.

As I sip on my pinot grigio, petting my purring cat with my Shih-Tzu afoot, I take heart in the choices I have made. Actually, I take even more heart that I finally figured out that life is a journey of choices. We always have a choice. Would I have done things differently in some fragment of my life? Of course, but I am the person that I am because of my past, shaped by every person and choice along the way. The years bleach away the regrets and fade the scars. I have a full season of life ahead, a bright future because I gave up trying to change the past. I have learned to live with the way things are now.

The dusk turns slowly into night and I am sitting in my Adirondack underneath a blanket of stars, still sipping and thinking. I am in awe of this fact: I have lived the life I have lived and no one will ever walk quite the same path on Earth as I. I am unique. The world will carry on, a very rapidly changing world, not as in tune with my rhythm anymore, stories I cannot even imagine will unfold, the sun will rise and fall, and the moon will wax and wane whether I am here or not.

As my one-year old grandson reaches up for my sun-spotted hand to steady his first steps, long forgotten sensations flood back...

To everything there is a season.


This essay was published in my athletic club's monthly magazine and I have had overwhelming positive comments, mostly from Baby Boomers who can connect to universal truths.
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