Monday, September 28, 2020

Reflections on Aging, Women and Cinderella's Pumpkin

Several years ago I began writing a story about a woman alone. It never occurred to me that a pandemic might make its title and subject more prescient than ever. The story was about an older woman living alone for the first time in almost forty years—a way to sort through my own jumbled thoughts about this business of women and aging. Here she was, an empty nester, looking back on her life and her choices, while wondering if she was one of those “widows” so often captured in novels—old women with their dogs or cats in a “lonely” house. 

As I wrote, I realized how many of us live solo. According to the Wall Street Journal, “35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Delayed or foregone marriage, long life expectancy, urbanization and wealth have contributed, demographers say.”  

Women tend to live longer than men. And for many older women there was joy in having our “own castle”. The trope of the old widowed woman in a cluttered dirty house smelling of dogs, had become not just antiquated, but laughable.

Yesterday I bought two pots of bright yellow mums and planted them along my walkway. I bought a white pumpkin, too. “Oh, you’re like Cinderella with her white pumpkin,” the lady at the store enthused. I gave up on the glass slipper, the white carriage and Prince Charming long ago, but not so much the fairy godmother. Although no magic wand is going to make me thirty years younger, I am still a romantic at heart, a believer in the possibility that when you least expect it, magic shows up on your doorstep in one form or another. It gives me courage and hope.

Poof! I can go out West for three months or stay home. All it takes is a will and a way.  Years ago, I learned the value of slowing down, taking your time and thinking things through. I’m lucky because I don’t have to work. Still, I do my own grocery shopping, clean my own house, attend to my finances. There is satisfaction in scrubbing down the kitchen, cleaning out closets. I prove my own resilience on a daily basis. There is satisfaction, too, in raking leaves in the backyard and watching my dog Lily roll with abandon in the grass. My friends and I do what we can. We meet in twos or threes in the park and social distance at a park bench as we read our stories. We talk on the phone for hours. We take long walks and share moments of our days.

As I once wrote here on this blog: The single woman's journey and the writer's parallel each other. We have confronted the difficult, the complex, the unspoken in polite company. A solitary and independent breed, we also identify with the collective journey; the need to give each other assistance.

Still, loneliness is real, it’s acute. Wearing masks, when we finally did emerge from lockdown, didn’t lend itself to animated conversations or seeing that smile, although maybe the twinkle in the eye. Aging is real too. I know because with temperature checks at the dentist and at church, my body temperature hovers between 95 and 97.8 degrees. I read that lower body temperature has to do with losing muscle and fat as we age. Fortunately, it's normal and nothing to worry about.

I enjoy the first cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning with no distractions. I enjoy making dinner when I want and preparing what I want. I enjoy stretching out on the sofa in the afternoon with a good book, knowing I don’t have to be anywhere or deal with anyone. 

As always, writing saves me. As always, reaching out by sharing my story saves me. As always, making a connection with you saves me. I hear my voice echoing in the chamber of my own quiet space. Trust your intuition, it says. Trust that the narrative is yours to create. Keep writing ... and poof!

“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me ... I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life ... I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I'll ever have.” ~ Natalie Goldberg, American author. 


Marian Beaman said...

You wrote about loneliness and aging in this post. But I felt an undercurrent of joy too: solitude, white pumpkins, yellow mums. I have two flower pots from Aldi at my front door. They'll last un-potted past Hallowe'en. Thank you!

Susan G. Weidener said...

Marian, You're right. Yellow mums were also featured on the cover of my memoir "Morning at Wellington Square." Their bright color in the fall offers promise of a new 'morning.' Happy autumn, good friend.

Marilyn said...

Hi Susan. Your thoughts on living alone are compelling. I have experienced living alone and living with a partner. Each has positive and negative aspects. I never felt lonely when I lived by myself, but I was in my early twenties and life had so much to offer. I kept a journal, thinking that at some point I could share thoughts about my solitary life in a story. Looking forward now, I can see a time when I might be alone again. Solitude could bracket the years of my life like bookends.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Marilyn, I think you are right that being alone when you are young and life has so much to offer, as you say, is different in many ways than being alone when you are elderly. I will ponder that as in my own life. Although I had a solitary childhood, I had a roommate, then a husband, then children, not finding myself living alone again until I was in my mid 60s. This is all fodder for writing, remembering and sharing. Thanks so much.