Tuesday, 13 November 2007

And on the way I lost it!

Julie Pippert at Using My Words has put up this topic for the Wednesday Humpday Hmm. I've never tried a Hmm topic before, but this one reached out and grabbed me.

"It's made me think about loss, what we value, and potential gain. Let's write about that. Imagine losing all your material possessions (except the few you can carry)... Or, tell us a story about some sort of loss. If you can inspire through hope, and tell us about something you gained from it, and real value, please definitely do that."

So I am going to make a list of things I have lost, some material and some not. And then I am going to go through the list again and put in things I have gained and balance that against the losses. I don't know how this will work, but here goes.

When I was a girl, I thought I would be a painter -- an artist in oils. I loved to paint, I entered my paintings in shows and won awards and my aunt the art teacher raved about my work. I thought I was The Best! It took a summer at art school when I was seventeen, surrounded by people who could really do it, to convince me that I was at best a talented amateur. It was my first experience with really looking at myself and seeing what others might see. At the time it was devastating and left me dazed and lost, not knowing who or what I could become. I spent the next three years trying on different persona, floundering a lot of the time, and finally settling on a life choice that was the very opposite of my aunt's, much as I still loved her. And I never again thought I was The Best, at anything.

Looking back, I think I must have been a really repellent teenager, convinced I was a Gift to a Waiting World. Finding out I wasn't has made me tolerant, and able to look at other people and see what they are about and enjoy them for what they are. I have learned to look for and celebrate talent of all kinds in others and in myself, too. I've made myself into a tolerable graphics artist, a competent photographer and a life long student of art in all its forms, whether it's a glorious oil or a really clever advertisement or a beautifully made quilt. I love to sew and knit and to make my house a warm and welcoming home. Small talents, but I've used them for other people and for myself. I probably get more joy over Little Stuff's delight in her furry cat costume than I ever would have at winning a juried show.

As a young woman I was slim, athletic and strong. I swam, I did winter sports, taught myself to ski, did a lot of work in the outdoors, lifting and hauling in the sugar bush. Even into late middle age I did a lot of hard physical labour. My husband took early retirement and we built ourselves a retirement home. And I mean, we built it. I lugged floor joists and rafters, hauled knee wall forms up ladders, lifted and carried 12' sections of drywall. Well, now I am a senior citizen, with arthritic joints and am no longer either slim or athletic. My knees swell, I have no grip in my dominant hand and ladders are agony. I'm terrified of falling if I ski. I have lost, almost entirely, the confidence and the willingness to try things, lost the sense of myself as a useful worker. People offer to carry things for me, to pull me up steps. I'm not a helper any more, I thought; I'm someone to be helped.

Sure, when my body started to fail to obey me, it felt at first as if the walls were closing in. But being unable to slug stuff around the woodlot left me time to explore other activities. I've joined several organizations and groups that help other people, whether in co-ordinating group activities (a local syrup makers' association, for instance) or managing an organization that helps others (the board of a non profit seniors' residence). If I can't do the heavy lifting, I can make posters and phone calls and take minutes. I found out that I'm good at fundraising. I can wash dishes at the local hall dinner and put face paint on kids for the Santa Claus parade. And I'm not giving in, that's for sure. I can still use snowshoes. I can swim just fine and I find I can step dance. At half speed, but who cares! I can look after my granddaughter, even if I have to tell her to climb up herself because I can't lift her.

It didn't matter to me a lot, even as a teen and young woman, to be pretty and to be admired. But I did enjoy having beautiful, smooth skin. Not any more. I have wrinkles, skin tags, sags and the discoloured spots that age brings. I get rashes and itches and my skin is getting thinner and papery and sort of soft, like tissue paper. Yuck. And there is no lotion or potion that will change any of it much. I just have to put up with it and wonder how much worse it is going to get.

I suspect most of you know the poem 'When I am an old woman, I will wear purple.' My colour is red -- or pink. I really enjoyed Andrea's posts on colour in clothing, and some of the comments, because I've always loved colour but working in an office is not the place for yellow trousers and three coloured shoes. Thankfully, I don't have to worry any more. No more sensible business suits and blouses with little bows at the neck. I haven't had to put on tights for ten years. The YD buys me lovely Christmas clothes, to smarten me up I suspect, and they are much admired. I buy clothes for colour and texture and comfort, and I don't really care what anyone thinks of them, unless I have to go to parties of my husband's associates. For these I have a black dinner suit but I wear a silver turtle neck with it. And red shoes.

Through sixty five years of living, you lose a lot of things. I've lost my babies (they grew up!), homes I have loved, my parents and aunts. I've lost track of friends, lost jobs, lost skills I didn't practice. Pieces and bits fall out of my memory from time to time. I've lost confidence in some ways. I've also lost my cocky, insufferable teenaged self and the hard, unsympathetic woman I could have become. I hope I've lost the path to becoming a whiny, querulous old woman, although it is hard to think so, rereading three paragraphs of whining. Although I have lost some friends, I have made a lot of new ones. My babies have been replaced by wonderful women with whom I am well content and a cherished grandkid. I have a home that my husband designed just for us, and I love it. I'm certainly not lost for things to do and places to go! And if I have to lose, as they say, my marbles, I am going to have fun while it's happening.


  1. First of all, I loved seeing a picture of you! You have just the open and warm face I would have expected.

    Second, itsounds as if your life thus far has been busy, full, and happy. I'm so glad.

  2. What a beautiful post...and lovely photos of you! It is so enriching to get to read about your life, which seems so well-lived in each stage so far. I look forward to continuing to hear all you have to say about this time in your life, too, but again, so interesting to hear the "backstory" too.

    Using My Words

  3. Here by way of Julie. I love that you wear read shoes with the suit.

    This post is fantastic. Life must be about losing and gaining both. It must be or why bother?

  4. Also here by way of Julie. I adored this post! I love how you set the losses next to the gains. I love the joy you get out of the CAN do's.

    I'm so glad I stopped by here today.