Sprites

One day when I was about four or five, I was playing at the home of my great grandparents, who lived just around the corner from my childhood home. I remember chasing a ball and trampling through a flower bed in the front of their house. Instead of scolding me, my paternal great-grandmother knelt on the sidewalk near the flowers and invited me to join her. “This is where the fairies live,” she said with reverence. “We need to be kind to them and protect their home.” She showed me the fairy trails under the tiny violas. “Let’s give them their favorite food,” she suggested, “to show them we’re sorry that we hurt their flowers.” She went inside and got a sugar cube that she had me place near the flowers I had stepped on. She warned, “the fairies play tricks on people who are not kind to them.” Later we sat together on her porch swing and she told me lots of stories about the fairies that she had seen in England when she was small. I was captivated, of course, and spent many afternoons lying on my belly in the sun next to the flower bed, watching and hoping to catch a glimpse of the fairies that Grandma introduced me to.

I forgot about that summer and the fairy stories until my youngest granddaughter asked me one afternoon if I believed in fairies. “Absolutely, I do,” I answered and launched into relating the stories that my grandma had shared with me so many summers before. The stories lead to making a fairy house. Nursery and hobby centers carry all kinds of supplies for fairy houses these days, but back then when my granddaughter was small, we improvised with a birdhouse from Hobby Lobby. We painted and decorated it. She left sugar cubes for the fairies to eat and bottle caps filled with water for them to drink. We took turns looking into the house at night just before she went to sleep. Sometimes she even caught a brief glimpse of movement inside the house. Her offerings of food and drink always disappeared. I told her, too, about the tendency of the fairies to play tricks on people who aren’t being kind. We later exchanged stories of times when we knew the fairies were up to their old tricks when strange or funny things happened to us. We often blamed the fairies when things went missing or turned up in an odd place. We wondered what we did to annoy them.

I believe that we are surrounded by spirits here on earth whether they be fairies or the souls of people we loved. Although, I don’t leave sugar cubes or water for them, I try to be kind and respectful of our natural world and conscious of my impact on others. That’s why I’m a little surprised whenever I feel like I’ve been tricked by the fairies. Yesterday I discovered that I had my underpants on backwards and I almost left the house in my slippers. Signs of senility? I prefer to think the fairies were involved again! I’m searching my memory to figure out what I did to provoke them this time.

Guess who?

Enchanted Cottage, starring Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire, was a sentimental film made in 1945. The story involves a disfigured GI (Young) who is rejected by his fiancé because of his appearance. He moves into a cottage and employs a homely servant (McGuire). They fall in love, marry and live together in the cottage. Love transforms them both and they become physically perfect in each other’s eyes. My husband and I watched the movie when we were first married and thought it was a sweet allegory on the power of love.

In some ways we live in an enchanted cottage as we’ve aged. Physical features matter less than health and our ability to care for one another. I occasionally wonder if things have gone a little too far, however, in my husband’s case. An old joke between us is that he can never remember the color of my eyes. If I close my eyes and ask him what color they are, most times he will say that they are hazel. They are blue. Last night we were sitting side by side in our recliners. I said, “I think I’ll get ready for bed.” He answered, “I thought you already did.” I had on the jeans and fleece top that I had worn all day. I don’t sleep in jeans. This morning I told him that I was heading for the shower. He said, “Oh, I thought you already had.” I was in my pjs and robe. I don’t spend the day in my nightclothes. Enchanted or just unobservant?

I think it’s important for two people to see the best in each other, but I also believe that it is equally important that they continue to notice and appreciate what’s new. People are now living longer. Marriages can last 70 years or more. Ideally, both individuals in a couple will grow and change over the course of their marriage. Hopefully, the bride and groom who marry in their 30s will be very different people by the time they celebrate a diamond anniversary.

When love is new, we experience an excitement in learning about the other. As relationships progress, there needs to be a delicate dance between predictability and discovery. Our personal fears and insecurities feel safer with sameness, yet relationships often become stale and lifeless when we fail to notice that something is new and different about the other person.

I saw couples in therapy sessions who were bored with each other and complained of the relationship being flat, dull. I sometimes gave them the assignment of noting five new things about the other person each week. At first, they would notice insignificant and obvious things, usually about physical appearance — he shaved his beard or she bought a new dress, for example. Over time, the list became more meaningful and resulted in deeper conversations. They started noticing changes in likes and dislikes, newly-acquired skills, shifting opinions. The individuals involved hadn’t changed drastically, but the relationship was benefitting from “fresh eyes.”

I had a poster in my college dorm in the late 1960’s that read, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was meant to be.” I naively thought that the poster referred to breaking up with someone and getting back together. I now think that it means that if you love someone, you resist putting them in a box. Instead, you hold them in wonder, open to being surprised, trusting that the unexpected will add to the relationship, not subtract from it. The Colombian writer, Marquez, said of his wife of forty years, “I know her so well now that I haven’t the slightest idea of who she is!” Now that’s a man who is paying attention!

My husband and I are going out to breakfast this morning to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We will exchange cards. Sometime after we place our food orders, I’m going to close my eyes and ask my husband what color they are. If he’s learned anything in the 54 years that I’ve known him, his answer will be, “beautiful — your eyes are beautiful.” Anyone up for a wager?

Titles that bind

I started writing this blog four years ago as a way to promote the jewelry I was selling in an Etsy shop. The content quickly morphed into a life account that I wanted to share with family. Soon it became an important almost-daily practice of self expression. I have over 700 posts on this blog. I’ve been re-reading them and specifying a category or two for each one. The process is similar to sorting through piles of old photos and organizing them in albums. I coulda/shoulda been doing this all along, but the process of reading the old posts has been heartwarming. I especially love the ones about the grandkids, memories of family members who have passed on and our travel adventures with friends. So many of my posts ended with “life is good” or “I am blessed” because it is and I am.

My primary intention in re-reading all the posts, is to select my favorites in each newly-designated category and polish up the writing — my English major friends will be happy to hear that. Then I plan to write some content as a context for each category, print out the result and organize the material in a binder for my family. I’m sure it is just what they’ve been wanting.

Another theme that I noticed while reading past posts, is my search for a Purpose in this stage of life. Last night I asked myself, “What if, instead of a Purpose (with a capital P), there are several purposes, and, what if, writing this blog is one of them?” I never started the blog thinking I’d have a following. I don’t promote the blog the way other bloggers do. My list of subscribers is made up primarily of people I know. Occasionally, however, I will get comments either on or offline from readers saying that something I wrote resonated with them or helped in some way. Those comments keep me going when I get stuck in thinking that the blog is a narcissistic exercise. So, I’ll continue to blog when I’m inspired, primarily because it helps me frame the messiness of my life by putting my thoughts and feelings in some sort of coherent order. Just what you’ve been wanting!

Uh uh uh uh…

I get ear worms. You know, the songs that stick in your brain and keep repeating a phrase over and over. My husband and I went to see a local production of the oldie, Saturday Night Fever, a couple weeks ago at a dinner theater. Ever since then, the song Staying Alive, has been ricocheting through my brain. I never get past the title and a few “uh, uh, uh, uhs” before it starts all over again. It’s maddening, but it has been my unconscious theme song for weeks now.

My husband is two-thirds of the way through his radiation treatment for prostate cancer as of today’s treatment. Since January 7, he has been driving an hour to the treatment center and back with another 20 minutes spent in the actual procedure. He insists that my going with him is a waste of my time. The routine consumes each day Monday to Friday, and according to him, the routine and the prep of having to drink 24 ounces of water an hour before the radiation, are the worst parts of the whole experience. While he is making his daily trek, I’m at home, on-call, ready to go with him and drive if the expected fatigue sets in. We both feel restricted by the process, will be grateful when it is finished and are confident that he will have a good outcome.

In spite of his insistence that I don’t need to go with him, I’ve gone several times when he’s had a check-in with the doctor. People in the waiting room tend to want to visit, to tell their stories, to be heard. One day when I was there, a frail, old woman rummaged through the basket of winter hats that someone had crocheted and donated. She chose a bright pink one and smiled broadly, holding it up for us to see. Then she announced to no one in particular, “I will wear this,” as if she needed justification for taking it. I wanted to say, “Take more. Wear a different one everyday if it makes you happy.”

One man, younger than we are, was there one day and I noticed that he had a backpack and a huge duffel bag. I actually wondered if he was homeless and just seeking shelter, as he was pretty scruffy looking. I later learned that he, too, was being treated for prostate cancer. He is still working and has to schedule treatments around his work schedule. He relies on public transportation. He is having some side effects from the treatment and needs to bring along a change of clothes, thus the duffel bag. He explained the difficulty of riding a bus, having to quickly get off, find a bathroom and then wait for the next bus on the route to continue his trip.

There are many other sad stories shared within that waiting room. Stories of having to choose between buying groceries and paying medical bills. Stories of the radiation being a last hope. Stories of horrible side effects compounded by other health conditions. Stories of multiple bouts with cancer and of losing loved ones to the disease. My husband is essentially free of symptoms and side effects. We view his treatment as a minor inconvenience that altered our plans for the winter. We are fortunate and grateful. But in the end, don’t we all have our own rendition of “staying alive?”

High maintenance

ALL of the ingredients above go into my morning smoothie: organic cherries, strawberries, blueberries and bananas, almond butter and almond milk, plant-based protein powder, raw cacao, turmeric, black pepper, collagen and a mix called “magic mushroom.” The latter has no psychogenic properties — honest — and it doesn’t taste like mushrooms! My morning supplements include a multi-vitamin, calcium citrate, vitamin C, glucosamine/chondroitin, hair/skin/nails, more turmeric, green tea extract, vitamin D3, flaxseed oil, omega 3 oil and CoQ10. At bedtime I take my four prescription meds — one each for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, neuropathy and estrogen suppression. I also take melatonin and magnesium at bedtime. I exercise 30 minutes each day alternating walking with a yoga routine and lifting weights. I use a CBD tincture at bedtime and CBD salve twice a day on the neuropathy site. I sleep with an open window for fresh air and keep the room temp at no more than 60 degrees. I do a simple version of intermittent fasting where I go 13 hours between my evening meal and the next morning’s breakfast. I limit red meat and alcohol, gluten, dairy and sugar and try to eat nine different fruits and vegetables each day. That’s a lot of planning, monitoring and focus. I have never been moderate in my approach to anything!

If my mother could see me now, she would just shake her head. She never heard of half the things I spend my money and time on. She might have a piece of toast with her morning coffee, or in a wild moment, an English muffin. She walked to work when the weather was nice, not because she had an exercise goal, but because it was enjoyable. She cooked food that her family liked to eat. Her idea of a diet was cutting back to half a sandwich for lunch. She was healthy and happy most of her life.

I’m not suggesting that we go back to the day when we were uninformed about the role of nutrients, vitamins and supplements, but I’m well aware that my pendulum may have swung just a little too far in the opposite direction. I miss the days when food was pleasurable and not something to be controlled, when I could forgo my exercise routine and not feel guilty.

Our son and his family are coming to visit this weekend. They make my approach to healthy living look undisciplined. I thought about meal planning yesterday, and for one foolish moment, thought I might make a meatloaf. I still have my mom’s food stained recipe card. I have good memories of her standard meatloaf meal that always included baked potatoes and baked beans. Everything went into the oven at once. Nope, wouldn’t work. Grass-fed beef is hard to come by here, as are gluten-free bread crumbs. Couldn’t top the meatloaf with ketchup either, like mom used to, unless I could find some without high-fructose corn syrup. Baked potatoes would have to give way to roasted vegetables and son has an allergy to beans.

I figured it out. I’m making reservations. We can walk briskly from the parking lot to the restaurant. Everybody can pick their own poison.

Creativity

I worked with a woman years ago, when I managed a mental health agency, who claimed that she wasn’t creative. When we had our case review meetings, she was always impressed when the other therapists could suggest novel approaches to working with clients. She tended to follow a textbook approach and kept moving closer to burnout in her work with each new client. I caught up with her years later and found that she had retired from being a therapist and was running a gallery that featured her paintings. The paintings were striking and diverse in style. I reminded her of her earlier self-assessment of not being creative. “Oh, I’m not creative,” she said, “I just paint.”

Why is it that claiming your creativity somehow sounds lofty and out of reach for most of us? I think it’s because we confuse the process with the product. Our fear of not producing a perfect end product stops us from engaging our imaginations in the play of creativity. Austin Kleon, who is an artist and author, encourages readers of his book Keep Going to “forget the noun, do the verb.” Forget the thing — painting, jewelry, quilt, writing (in my case) — that can be judged by others, and just play.

There’s an old psychology experiment tied to creativity. The researcher asks a classroom of children to raise their hands if they are creative. Almost all the hands go up instantly. Ask a classroom of college Freshmen the same question and first the students will look around to see if anyone else is raising their hands, then a few students who are Fine Arts majors will raise their hands. As we develop, creativity becomes restricted to a skill, rather than being a mindset.

As people age, the concept sometimes shifts once again. I teach a class each year to seniors at a community college in Arizona. The class focuses on life stories. Ask the group of self-aware elders, who typically sign up for classes like mine, when they demonstrated creativity in their lives and they will entertain you with stories of problem-solving, invention, bold personal change. They generated options throughout their lives when faced with what first seemed to be a limiting reality. Seldom do they think to include examples of hobbies, which are too small to contain their creativity. They see creativity as an exciting approach to life. That outlook draws them to life-long learning and prepares them for the adaptability required to age successfully.

Satchel Paige is credited with asking, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” I’d ask, “How could you spend the day being creative, if you stopped thinking you weren’t?” Let me know. It’s cold and snowing here. I plan to spend some time daydreaming and playing.

Nuances

A former colleague recently contacted me. He’s getting ready to retire and wanted some advice. It made sense that he would reach out to me since I previously delivered seminars and retirement coaching at his company. But let me point out that I did that work before I retired, which I now realize, is the equivalent of delivering parenting classes before you have children. The truth is, the farther along I get in this retirement journey, the more I appreciate how little I know.

The content of my previous training classes and coaching sessions were backed by research, of course. I understood the culture that the executives were leaving and the behaviors that drove their success. I told people to:

  • Take time off to decompress. Plan a trip to celebrate or just unplug, whichever restores your psyche.
  • Spend time with family. Re-establish relationships, if necessary.
  • Make new friends. It’s a sad reality, but friends who are still working, won’t have much time for you.
  • Develop a hobby. Think about something that interested you before you got too busy to play.
  • Make a bucket list.
  • Keep learning. “Use it or lose it.”
  • Create a new schedule that incorporates exercise. The routine that you establish early on will determine your future capacity.
  • Know that you will eventually tire of a perpetual vacation and want to do something meaningful again. Give that “something meaningful” time to evolve.

The advice was sound. The seminars were well-received and people left with a concrete plan for the immediate future. They felt hopeful and confident. It beat being afraid. The program included follow-up coaching and a check-in a few months after the retirement date. It didn’t include follow up a year or two down the road, however. I suspect, if it had — and if the conditions were conducive for a candid conversation — there would be as many versions of retirement as there were retirees, and not all of them would be rosy.

What I’ve learned about navigating this stage in life, is that it is not as much about a plan for what you will do, as much as it is about who you will become. All of the individuals retiring from my old company are intelligent and accomplished. So what could go wrong? For one thing, most of these people lack the time and inclination for developing self-awareness. They are often stuck in a developmental phase that James Hollis describes as “I am what the world thinks I am.” The attachment to title and status is hard to discard and some struggle to form a new self-image after retirement. Transitions are the perfect time to understand what you are made of, but that clarity only comes from reflection, a skill that most of the executives I worked with, didn’t have the time or interest to develop.

Even if a retiring executive is self-aware and ready to move on, there are so many wild cards in life that can trash even the best plan. In the company I worked for, there was a predictable career progression and the nature of their work conformed to rules. I’m not sure how well those retirement plans set-to-paper held up when resiliency, flexibility and creativity were the new traits required. For example, how did the individual plan hold up when their spouses hadn’t retired yet or had a very different bucket list? What about health issues that frequently surface in our 60’s? Did anyone consider that they might need to switch to a Plan B because of illness? Could they let go of Plan A without resentment? The executives I worked with were also used to making informed professional decisions. Life choices aren’t so clear cut. What if they planned to move to Florida only to discover that five days a week on the golf course was not nirvana and that hurricane season is stressful? Would they cut their losses and change course easily?

I lacked my once confident demeanor when asked for advice about retirement, because I now understand that this stage of life is just as unique to an individual as are all other life stages. In the end, my answer to my ex-colleague who asked for advice about retirement, was simply, “Enjoy it. Life is short.”

Hometown

I can remember being in high school and anxious to leave home. I couldn’t wait to go to college and escape the boredom of a small town. I wonder if all teens feel the way I did? For example, do kids growing up in destinations like San Francisco or Boston find their hometowns too small for their blossoming egos? Things look very different for me 54 years later and I now view my hometown as a great place to have spent my childhood and adolescence.

Over the last five decades, the population of my hometown has declined. We lost several core industries. The old downtown buildings, often owned by absentee landlords, fell to disrepair. Some were torn down — the cheaper solution — that left ugly gaps on Main Street, while others were simply boarded up. There were times when you could drive downtown and not see a car parked for blocks. Stores closed or moved to the outskirts of town. Real estate prices, in general, dropped sharply. In 2010 a tornado ripped through town and took homes and century-old trees with it. It was depressing to view the aftermath.

I’m a member of a Facebook group dedicated to my hometown, Streator Illinois. Someone posted a plea a few days ago for a community effort to get our town considered for a new show on HGTV called “Hometown Takeover.” The show crew will go into a community with a population of fewer than 40,000 residents and makeover homes, businesses and community spaces. Over 2,000 current and former residents signed a petition of support for Streator and many people sent pictures, videos and testimonials in to HGTV as part of the submission process.

I showed my support for the process with the following submission:

“Streator, Illinois is my hometown. I left there decades ago, but I still visit whenever I can. Each time I reach the city limits, I feel a sense of excitement “going home” — wondering what is new, what stayed the same.

Streator was founded in 1861 as a settlement originally called “Hardscrabble.” It developed among the coal mines, railroads, corn fields and factories, like many small towns in central Illinois. I spent my adolescent years in an old Victorian style house built in 1901 on a street paved with bricks. In my neighborhood near the river bottoms, there were other Victorian houses, prairie-style brick homes with wide front porches, Tudors and mid-century ranch homes. Main Street was also paved with brick at the time and stretched for eight blocks. It was the gathering place for farming and town families, especially on Saturday night. While in high school, we slowly cruised Main Street gathering with our friends or meeting them at Hills, a local soda fountain. Some of the original buildings on Main Street remain intact today. Many were “modernized” over the years and beg for their original identity.

Streator is not just a collection of buildings. It is a community. Roots go deep. Six generations of my family are buried there. Women from my high school graduating class of 1965 gather once a month May-October for a luncheon. Last June we had 37 women attend from all over the country. Most recently, when I’ve returned home for a visit, there is evidence that a dedicated group of citizens care enough about this place that I still call home to work hard to restore its original energy. Store fronts have been refurbished, new small businesses occupy stores on Main Street, the Walldogs painted historic murals around town, festivals and events populate the community calendar, but there is so much more that could be done.

I know that there are multiple submissions for Streator in this contest, so I chose to focus on an aspect that others might not think to include in their list of homes and businesses that could benefit from a do-over. Streator has always been a working man’s town. Taverns were an important part of the history of this blue collar town and they were more than a place to buy liquor. Each ethnic group, construction trade, union, or neighborhood had a favorite spot where the men gathered after a hard day’s work to have a drink with friends, relax or just “shoot the breeze” before heading home. Later, food was served in most establishments and women joined the clientele — sometimes popping in at lunchtime for a sandwich, other times joining their husbands for a “night on the town.” In 1959 there were 45 “taverns” listed in the city directory and many of them clustered along Main Street vying for the title of “best hot roast beef or ham salad sandwich.” Most of these taverns had elaborate wooden back bars, some of which I’m told remain intact today in the remaining taverns. They are beautiful examples of the craftsmanship that built Streator and they need to be showcased again. I suspect that other examples of craftsmanship are hiding in homes, commercial buildings or storage just waiting for a second life.

There are a few nondescript restaurants currently on the outskirts of town and I understand that a new restaurant just opened on Main Street, but I have no knowledge of the interior or setting. An old back bar could function as a great display in a store or as a focal point for a refurbished restaurant/bar or a soda fountain. Every town needs a gathering place where it’s citizens of all ages can come together and it would be great to incorporate a piece of Streator’s social history using an original back bar that has stories to tell.”

I also attached to my submission a poem written in the 1920’s by an accomplished citizen of our town, Reuben Soderstrom. The poem captures the spirit of Main Street in that era:

STREATOR ON SATURDAY NIGHT

We’ve been used right royally elsewhere, In visits to towns of more fame—

And enjoyed the sights and many bright lights While playing the visiting game;

But however joyful and rosy The appeal of a foreign sight,

We’ve oft found ourselves a-longing for Streator on Saturday night.

Streator boasts of no world attractions,

Has no seashore, nor mountain peaks high— But while roaming afar, where these things are

Our people admit (on the sly) That New York is all right on Sunday

And ‘Frisco on Wednesday is bright— But no place in our splendid nation is

Like Streator on Saturday night.

All things unite in an effort

On this famous eve of the week

In a manner caressing, with nothing distressing To of hospitality and good fellowship speak;

There’s a smile on each face congenial, There’s the handshake that you feel is right

The place of which I am speaking,

Is Streator on Saturday night.

For a pleasanter and happier Saturday, With crowds more generous and kind,

It’s our proud boast—from coast to coast- Would be mighty hard to find;

For Main Street its kings and its barons, With our toilers join hands in delight,

And surely make all tilings alluring In Streator on Saturday night.

Any city may have a feature

That brings to it fortune and renown,

But to my notion there’s no mountain or ocean Looms up like this night in our town.

Friends—Let’s give a toast to our people— Whose sorrows and troubles take flight,

To the love and cheer that’s displayed—no discomfort In Streator on Saturday night.

Poets who rave of the Rockies Of oceans, of cities, of flowers

It’s one safe bet that they haven’t yet Witnessed the feature that’s ours;

Because then when their minds are a-pondering And in memories allowed to delight,

They’d find but one topic to write on—

That’s “Streator, on Saturday Night!”

Reuben Soderstrom was a union organizer and a member of the Illinois House of Representatives. He was also the grandfather of one of my classmates. Most people remember him for his political accomplishments, but my memory is of a winter night when he knelt in the snow to tie the laces on my ice skate when my friends and I were skating on the river near their family home. It’s simple memories like that which made Streator a great place to grow up. It would be wonderful to see my hometown get a fresh start with the help of HGTV, but I am hopeful that even without their help, the current citizens of this town, originally called Hardscrabble, will show their grit and make good things happen again.

How to Remember

I watched the Super Bowl yesterday and thought that most of the ads were bizarre. (I won’t even comment on the lewd halftime show!) But, there was one ad that brought tears to my eyes. It was a commercial for Google where an old man was asking his Google assistant to pull up pictures of his late wife, Loretta, or play their favorite movie or just remember details about her. At the end, it scrolled through a list of details that he’d asked Google to remember for him over the years like the fact that she snorted when she laughed, always said “tickled pink” and liked to visit Alaska. Google captured the relationship for him to be played back whenever he wanted.

I thought about some of my friends and their tendency to hold on to things that capture memories. Just this last week, a friend sent me a photo of the wedding announcement I sent out after my second wedding almost 20 years ago. I have one friend who still has dresses from her high school proms. I don’t even have my wedding dresses! I also thought about the contrast between my husband and I. He has clothes from high school, too, and toys from his childhood that remain sealed up in boxes. I never understood that type of saving. If the items held important memories, wouldn’t you want them to be visible?

When my brother-in-law and his wife moved into their recent home, they cleaned out the house where they had raised their kids. They called their purge “ruthless and relentless.” My sister-in-law recommends taking a picture of an object that holds good memories and then keeping the picture rather than the thing. After all, it’s usually the feeling that the object symbolizes, not the object itself that holds value. I’m sure that all my husband’s “treasures” will end up in the landfill, not on Antiques Roadshow, as our sons have neither the time nor patience to sort through all the boxes after we are gone.

I like the idea of Google storing memories for me. True, there will be a day, when I no longer remember how to access Google, but by then all the important memories won’t matter…except to my heart.

“Abundance is a full heart, not a full house.” — Courtney Carver

Discovery

My favorite people tend to be among the very young or the very old. Within those two groups are interesting individuals who view life as a great adventure. The kids view everything with wonder. Their shadow becomes an unexpected playmate, a rainbow is a miracle, simple knock-knock jokes elicit belly laughs. Among the elderly, those who have aged well, continue to invite and share joy. They take time to form deep questions and wait expectantly for your response. They share rich stories that reveal their vulnerability. They notice and savor the little things in life.

Angeles Arrien, who was one of my teachers, said, “There are two things we cannot do in the fast lane: we cannot deepen our experience or integrate it.” The old-young, the people in the middle, are too bogged down with the reality of paying bills, building a resume and watching their weight. Many skim the surface of their days and fail to latch on to much that is worth sharing. The young-old, those who are leaving middle age kicking and screaming, often spend their days in fear of what is to come. They haven’t yet taken the time to reflect on their lives. Engage them in conversation, and you will get what I call “an organ recital” — a detailed account of the latest ache, pain or surgery. God forbid, you should stop one who just had a joint replacement and ask, “what’s new?”

Introduce me to someone who understands the difference between aging and getting old. Someone who has spent time in solitude and slowness, not just recollecting the past, but understanding it’s significance and assimilating it. I want to know who they were, who they are, how they got here. Inside interesting old people are multiple versions — layers of identity, none of them lost to time. I want to hear the stories of their evolution: the failures, triumphs, lessons.

And when we are done with that good conversation, we can watch with wonder as our shadows shift with the diminishing light.