Want to Mega-Uber your simple pleasures? The answer is simple – live long! I had thought this sounded true a few years ago when I read about it in Atul Gawande’s amazing book, Being Mortal. Now, pushing 70, I’m sure it is. Maybe it’s just because the kids are raised and daily life is not so packed. But I think it’s more than that.
Cherries are a simple pleasure that has maxed for me as I’ve aged. I’ve always loved them. When I was a kid growing up in Florida they were so rare and expensive; I can remember badgering my Mother into buying them once, but not what they tasted like. Now, in full charge of my groceries, I buy them all season long. Here in southern California, we are just beginning to see them in the farm stands, sour early bloomers. But the good ones will come along soon, the yellow Queen Annes, nearly too sweet. And the heavy dark ones with the juice crammed in so tight it’s ridiculous to even try to describe. Last spring when these appeared in to the grocery store, I remember feeling such pleasure as I lifted the first bag. I lifted it the way you’d lift a baby, delighting in a precious kind of weight. I was probably grinning from ear to ear and later it occurred to me that I must have looked like a crazy old lady – surely an accurate perception, I simply do not remember being capable of such giddiness over little nothings.
Flowers were my Daddy’s cherries. One of the strongest memories of my life was something that happened when I was in my 30’s, on a visit to my parents. One morning, I came upon my Father poised in the kitchen doorway utterly transfixed by something out the window. I was about to ask him what he was looking at, when my Mother swooped in, grabbed him from behind and pulled him back, wailing his name as if she were dragging him from a precipice. She must have had a premonition of his dementia, which would not arrive until years later. She had been a VA social worker and a lot of her patients were old; she could spot dementia from a distance. But Mom’s kind of social working had to do with saving the day and moving on. So that morning, having rescued my Dad, she went on about her business. When we were alone, I asked Dad what he was looking at and he pointed to a small flower out the window – the blossom of a paper plant. My Dad had always loved flowers and here was one of his favorites, blooming late in the season, the last one of fall. He was lost in its beauty – a small ivory-colored, sputnik-shaped blossom, glowing in the creamy autumn sun.
This phenomenon is related to the thing I blogged (wrote) about in George, the Beauty Hunter. George has been training his mind to seek out everyday beauty for years. No wonder he is so good at living long.
This kind of thing is one of the greatest assets of getting old. And we’ve got to savor the assets because God knows there are deficits, don’t get me going on that. This delight in small things makes us Elders increasingly cheap dates. Give us a park bench and a friend to sit with and we’re good. No! better than good, we’re content. Our contentment can look pretty placid and simple-minded from the vantage point of youth – I remember pitying old men hanging out in parks most of my life.
But what I’m beginning to recognize is that this contentment is filled with wisdom and perspective from all our years delighted in and survived. That’s a scope you can’t comprehend at 20, 40, 50, even 60 if you’re a late bloomer like me.
In that simple-looking contentment, memories and ideas and all kinds of things come together, like we talked about in the Grandma Moses/creativity blog. And sometimes these coming togethers result in profound observations. Let me give you an example from the book, Wise Woman, by the national-treasure photographer, Joyce Tenneson.
For this book, Joyce went around photographing old women and collecting quotes from them. Some of them are famous, some everyday. One of my favorites is from a woman named Elaine Alexander who spoke about the sense of spirituality she experiences as she ages that is not necessarily religious. And then she gives an example of this spiritual experience which is so beautiful and profound to me, it almost makes it worth putting up with the pain and loss and unmitigated crap of old age. Here’s what Elaine could see from the catbird seat of her whole life’s experience:
“As I watch my eight grandchildren grow and actually be there, existing and full of life, I realize that the Holocaust didn’t work.”
Joyce Tenneson’s amazing Wise Women is available from Amazon books. (All proceeds from the book go to The Light Warriors, a non-profit organization that provides mentoring and scholarships in the creative arts.) Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is also available on Amazon. Both are probably available at your local library, or they can get it for you.
You can listen to the podcast about how creativity gets stronger with age by clicking here: http://www.onbeing.org/program/rex-jung-creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/1879
God Bless Us, Everyone.
Originally posted 2016-04-05 01:00:43.