Do you imagine yourself at some point in the future radically changed in nature? For instance, you have always been a risk-taker, someone who lives life large but always assumed that by the time you hit 65, you'd be careful and serene? There's nothing wrong with changing our minds about who we are or want to be: to develop aspects of ourselves that have been neglected in the past. At least in theory. But in reality, on the eve of turning 65 next week, in the midst of a big life transition, I am rethinking some key assumptions I've held about who I would be at 65.
In brief, my husband Dan, faithful dog Lucky and I are at the tail end of a radical move from our cottage in Los Angeles to live close to our grand-family in Nashville. Now that we've arrived, the question is where will we live? On the one hand, there are lovely, turn-key condos in the neighborhood that seem the logical, reasonable choice. Simple, safe, easy. But there's one problem: none of them make our hearts sing. What does make our hearts sing is a 1930's stone house fixer-upper on the river 10 minutes up the road that would make the kind of demands on us we thought we'd left behind. What if the problems are bigger than anticipated? What if the real estate market goes down again? What if the river floods its banks? Do we take this risk on at our age and stage in life?
We tried to set the house aside. We put an offer in and withdrew it. We resumed our search for the perfect little condo. But the old stone house kept calling to us, first in whispers, then in shouts. "I am much more than just a place to live," the house cried out. "I am the battlefield upon which angels are fighting in your soul over whether even at 65 you get to take on the risk of going for what you really want?"
Seeking counsel, I picked up one of the few books that I carried with me across country in my suitcase: The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister. I opened at random and began to read: "Abandoning life before life is over is not just resignation: it is not trying to reach for God on God's terms."
I understood immediately what Joan and the house were saying to me. We'd taken the risk of moving across country. And now, once arrived, we have to decide if we're going to live safe or continue to live life as fully as possible. I can argue with God all I want. The moment we found this house, I realized that I'd been hoarding all my aspirational resources about aging, as if the pot were limited and all there is ahead of me is self-protection and diminishment. I realize now that to truly live one's life fully means inviting risk back in. In our case it was the old stone house. For others, it's leaving a stable job, traveling alone, hiking in the woods --even if at a somewhat slower pace -- or taking on a new relationship. Others may even find that it is a turn-key condo that is calling to them: the choice that for them represents growth and renewed life. Whatever it is for you, there will come a moment when the stakes get raised and just when one would like to lie down and pull the blankets over her head, one is rather being called back into the fray.
To make a long story short, we put the offer back on the house which was accepted yesterday. The old stone house on the river now represents a commitment to life lived to the full: a tad foolish, risky, dramatic. In other words, even at 65, I get to be who I have always been. I confess to having had a few sleepless nights, but it was for good purpose: giving myself the opportunity to rise to my new occasion. In accepting this discomfort, rather than seeking protection from angels, I have found myself wrestling with them. But it is a divine wrestle, like Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok at Penuel Ridge. And I will not give up until I wrest God's blessing. We do, after all, deserve to have our hearts sing to us, even when we turn 65.