Henry Wadsworth Longfellow observed,
“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
I read that in Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years, subtitled Growing Older Gracefully. It is a treasure of a book, given to me last year for my 90th birthday by a friend I’ve known since she was a college girl and I was a busy mother of four young boys. I am constantly surprised that she is in her 70s now and considering moving into a senior community. I can’t be too surprised, though, since those young boys are now in their early 60s.
Longfellow continues speaking of the mystery of the later years of life, the satisfaction of it all. “And yet one of the obstacles to living an exciting life in our later years is that we become so sure we’re losing something and so unaware of what we’re gaining.”
He says, “the later years of life are given to us to bring in the harvest of all that effort” that we spent during young and middle years. I like that! I recently visited a friend who has bought a house on the shore of Indian Lake in Michigan to spend summers near her grandchildren. As a parent, Louise devoted her life to her own children and is being rewarded by adoring grandchildren. An important part of her harvest.
My own grandchildren are adults now, some having babies of their own. And I reap the benefits of dedicated motherhood. Bringing in the harvest. When we think of harvest, we think of corn, of garden produce. Louise and I drove to Mr Sprague’s farm stand to gather peaches, tomatoes, a white aubergine, apples, corn, and small red potatoes. Three generations of the farm family worked the busy money box. Reaped the benefits of hard work, their harvest.
No wonder Autumn is my favorite season. No wonder that as I age, I feel more and more comfortable with the soft days of contemplation. I frequently sit in the sun on the yellow garden bench and just listen to the hum of silence. Yesterday I sat very still to watch a neighborhood cat stand on her hind legs to drink from the bird bath. A crow teetered on the bird feeder, made it swing until most of the seeds had fallen to the ground, and then flapped down to the path to snap up lunch. The cat ran away. A monarch butterfly almost landed on my hand, but decided to choose the Buddleia bush. Bees hovered over the lavender, and a hummingbird liked the Agapanthus. I felt almost as though I were in Eden. Nothing else demanded attention. I was present. In the garden.
Since being in Michigan for two weeks, in airports and train stations, in traffic, in the mainstream, I have felt that life at Spring Lake Village is not a real life. It feels like Shangri La or Never-never-land.
But that is not so. This is my real life. This cocoon, this padded, quiet, safe and sanitary life is the real life of the seniors who live here. I understand now that there are parallel lives. This is one of them. And it’s autumn. Time to harvest.