Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ad Astra per Alia Porci


To the stars on the wings of a pig


John Steinbeck so loved this phrase that every book he wrote was imprinted with this insignia. Kinda sums up how I used to view getting older: yeah, right, I’ll get old…when pigs fly.

And then suddenly one morning, my bacon came adorned with small white downy feathers. The realization that I had less years in front of me than I had in the past was both sobering and panic-inducing.

At 56, I am not merely middle-aged anymore, more like early old. (Too bad there isn’t a category of wine for that; “early old merlot” has a catchy lilt, don’t you think?) My generation cut its adolescent teeth on pronouncing the untrustfulness of decrepit deceitful old people over the age of 30. And here I am - 26 years past that channel buoy marker complete with most of my limbs in good working, albeit slightly deceitful, order. (Knocking my knuckles against my trustworthy wooden skull as I type this.)

Much to my unexpected joy, I don’t feel old on the inside. My dread of getting old from the perspective of a 20 year-old included a fear of mental infirmness; a debilitation of not only the physical self, but also the essence of my being. Quite the opposite has occurred; I feel much more in control of my life than I ever did in my twenties or even thirties.

I only thought I knew what liberation was during my pro-feminism years; getting older is the real secret ingredient to such emotional freedom and a potent addition to a fully baked life. You really can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re only a fourth of the way up the mountain, thus I intend to reach the summit for the best view.

There is something innately spiritual about aging, and I suppose old Meletus, the ancient Greek fanatical, would find disapproval, but I think Socrates got it right: finding your own inner god takes perseverance and guts, but the reward is immeasurable. (Luckily for me, I didn’t have to drink a poison to make this observation.)

I remember being surprised one family summer vacation when I was swimming in the warm gulf waters off of Galveston beach with my grandmother. The unexpectedness at her sudden spurt of sheer unabashed joy with each rolling wave caught me off guard; this wasn’t the woman I knew as my “old” grandmother who normally was full of bitter warnings about not touching her stuff or playing too loud on the piano in her front living room. Her laughter came deep and full-throated, her arms flew up and projected her into the oncoming surf with the vitality of an Olympic swimmer, and her salt and pepper carefully coifed hair clung in soft ringlets around her face. Her usual disdain for being out in the sun was quickly forgotten upon the first step into the frothy water. She will never know the lastingness of her gift to me that day; my preconceptions of both my grandmother as a person and of growing old changed forever. I treasure this self-awakening and the sweet memory.

I began my aging journey with trepidation, but with each passing year, my fears have become less, my quest for learning more intense. And with the passage of time, I have a sense of humbleness knowing that I will never answer my very last question, and an acceptance of wise Socrates’ pronouncement: “I know that I know nothing.”

**I'm trying to blog my way to the AARP Orlando@50 conference. This blog post is an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event. Find out more about the conference here.

24 comments:

Greenhuntingcat said...

Pattie,

Being also 56, it resonates when you wrote "less years in front of me than I had in the past. I like in your posting that you express both your concerns, and the wonderful gift of your grandmother's example.

Best wishes,

John

Bill said...

I had a swimming adventure with my grandmother in Lake Erie. She dunked me under. And I, too, will never forget her throaty laughter.

I, for one, am striving to encounter more prime number birthdays in the future than I have had in the past.

Whisky Prajer said...

Remarkable how the ocean brings out such unexpected joy in people (so long as you're not hydrophobic, I suppose). I watched my family bobbing around in the waves off Maine last month. There's no long lead-in process, just ... *splash* ... joy!

A pleasantly mullable post, CP -- thank you.

Emily M. said...

As always, it is a treat to read (and often learn from) your essays! Thanks for the glimpse into a precious memory of your past, and here's to many more memories in the making! **insert clinking sound of wine glasses**

Emily Ann M.

la peregrina said...

Pattie, you nailed the best part of growing older, the realization that there is something spiritual and liberating about aging. I'm there with you half way up the mountain.

bill / prairie point said...

Love the story of your grandmother in the ocean. I am going to try and remember that this weekend when my grandchildren are here. I am afraid I am usually too full of bitter warnings and admonishments. Maybe I can take them swimming.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful!!

Cowtown Pattie said...

Thanks, folks! I guess the lesson here has been....for whatever ails ya, take a dip in the briny deep!

Ole Phat Stu said...

Then I expect you remember this :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmCKvY684WI

Anonymous said...

"You really can’t see the forest for the trees when you’re only a fourth of the way up the mountain, thus I intend to reach the summit for the best view."

Very nice line!

Elisson said...

What a beautiful post.

I expect you'll have a great time in Orlando... 'cause with writing chops like that, you're a shoo-in.

Kay Dennison said...

You're doing just fine!!!

joared said...

Great post and thoughts, Pattie! Was surprised to learn you're competing in the contest to be an official AARP Orlando conference blogger. I think you'll be perfect to cover the event and surely do hope you win.

At the risk of using a cliche' you're just a spring chicken, kiddie, just getting started on the second half of your life.

Anonymous said...

A fine entry for the "contest", Patty. Good luck!
Cop Car

DarkoV said...

Maybe it's cux I'm the caboose on your aging train, CP, so my comment comes with the connected wish for myslef...but, it doesn't read here as if you're aging. Seems to this reader that it's wisdom yuo're stockpiling in Texas size silos.

Great post!

stacey said...

love it! and so true that is is not what we thought it would be! go class of 72!

Peter Tibbles said...

I thought "Ad Astra" meant something like "To the stars". I ask because it was our school motto. The school emblem was a Lowan, that's an Australian flightless bird. We were always amused by the dichotomy.

Frank Paynter said...

Pattie, You got the skillz! As always, this is a wonderful, well written post, a post that made me smile and made me think. You're a shoo in, a contest winner for sure!

Did Steinbeck really imprint his work with the flying pig motto? I'm so credulous, wasn't until I got old that I saw how often I let the wool be pulled over my eyes.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Frank,

I need to check a Steinbeck book I have in my own library, but as far as I know, Steinbeck used the quote as his life long motto, and often referred to the little flying pig as "pigasus".

la peregrina said...

Hey! You did it! Well done. Have fun in Orlando. :)

Darlene said...

Congratulations on winning. It couldn't come to a more deserving blogger. Your sense of humor is inspiring and I love the way you use your Texas style of writing to make us laugh. Looking forward to your report on Orlando.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Thanks, Ya'll!

Mildred Garfield said...

Congratulations! So happy you won - now I'm looking forward to what you write about when you are at the conference!

Loved your story about seeing the joy your grandmother experienced in the water. What a memorable moment that was!

If I got to the ocean I'd do that too!

Freda said...

Well done! Have a good time.