07/29/2014 03:50 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2014

Every Woman as Moribund

When I was a new retiree, I wrote about creating a life in context. By this I meant that I had to consider my life in a new way, as a person retired, a person formerly someone. I saw myself as a novice, a new, retiree. I was entering the novitiate of retirement. Having been a novice more than once, I have learned that the novitiate is indeed a preparation, not an ending. Thus I began to understand more about retirement as a chance to be currently someone and to find my role in new contexts. Now I have left the retirement novitiate and am a professed member of the retired class, my Social Security and Medicare cards as proof. Eventually, Every woman faces moribundity.

Retirement has been ongoing during these last years, and I am now part of the "working retired." Nominally, I am retired; actually I am teaching half-time, this for money, albeit minimal, and fun. The extra money helps pay the bills; the teaching keeps me invigorated and frustrated. I am invigorated because I still love to teach and interact with the students. I love the look of wonder I see on their faces when they realize or understand something or fall in love with an author or an idea. I still get mostly positive feedback from my students and that gives me an ego boost every now and then. On the other hand, I get frustrated because I tire more easily and sometimes I hear myself sounding like a harridan when this very, very young group of people gets on my nerves.

Adversely, when I am with people my age or older for too long, I also tire because we engage in the requisite "organ recital" and other rituals associated with the elder world. We complain about each other, our children, the country and the world. We laugh disappointedly about how out of touch we are with technology, current mores, and family structure. We somewhat disapprove of how our children are rearing our grandchildren. I hear us saying things I hated hearing old people say when I was young.

There is a sense of foreboding in my milieu today. It is in the world as well, I know. We live in a culture of fear. People today are afraid of the future because they see everything changing and the secure white middle-class world we grew up in fast disappearing. The complexion of the world and of the United States has changed, literally and figuratively, and many people are just now aware of it. This condition is scaring a lot of people today, not only the elderly. Losing control of one's personal life and then, on top of that, having the entire universe spin away from our comprehension is too much for many people. All of this compounds the anxiety and fear of the elderly.

I hear and see this everywhere and it weighs me down sometimes. I get heavy with the weight of the world. It's all on my shoulders. Other women and men tell me much the same thing. It is the experience of every woman and every man as they age. What can we do, I wonder. I sit still in my room and meditate; I go to church and pray with confreres. I am thoughtless and impatient. I work hard to keep love and balance in my home and with my family. I forget about kindness and understanding. I read and discuss and act on issues of local and national import. I write and write and think and think. I get angry at the state of the world. I listen to wise people and learn from them. I more and more avoid the foolish and culpably ignorant. I do the best I can and it is worth very little in the grand scheme of things.

We are moribund and we finally know it. We always were, but I think now that one of the great insights of retirement and old age is the certain knowledge that life is wending its way toward the end and we must accept and live as though we both know and don't know this.

Some people dissolve when they first know about moribundity. It's easy to do this because it absolves one of further responsibility. If I am going to die soon anyway, then why bother? Why care about myself or anyone else? Or -- why not care only about myself and make myself as comfortable, secure and non-participative as possible in my declension? This kind of thinking is very tempting because, in fact, being moribund means not only dying, which even an infant is doing, but also lacking vitality, interest, energy. I know this kind of person well; she or he becomes bland and immobile, uninterested and uninvolved. S/he is not necessarily unpleasant, just uninterested and unaffected. S/he is boring and uninspired. This is a great temptation when one feels that life is too complex and difficult. Some find refuge in illness and helplessness; some just go away. This way of facing one's mortality is tempting and relatively easy. It is also awful.

I feel the attractiveness of this alternative, but I am unable to accept it. I know I am moribund and that death will come to me and mine. This is not an insight; rather it is a twist in the abdomen. Constitutionally, I can do only what I must and can do. I will continue my meandering errant ways of dealing with myself and my world. I accept my moribundity and will carry on pretty much the same as always. Only now it's a matter of life and death, more tilted toward the latter. I am still looking for God in all this.