Is sixty-two old? You’re going to say it’s a matter of perspective, aren’t you? Well, I couldn’t disagree more. What’s red or good or deep is red or good or deep all of the time. No exceptions. No shades of gray. My age is my age. And so it was at the altogether ordinary age of sixty-two I realized for sure that I would die. It probably wouldn’t happen anytime soon but, whether the result of some catastrophic medical trauma or after a lingering decline, I would leave this world. Suddenly, I could feel the pull of years as certainly as I felt the changing of the seasons. There was no more ignoring it or skirting the issue. I felt on the downside of a life well-lived.
Now, six years later, I can still feel the pull of all those years and with it the realization that time is no linear thing, no inclination from birth through to the grave. I have managed to kludge together the strange and obvious knowledge that my life is happening all at once, right now. My friends Robin and Tina and Steve are still with me even though they have been dead for decades now. The night, at seventeen, I danced with Chuck Berry in a St. Louis dive bar is still right in front of my eyes. The birth of my precious daughter when I was twenty-eight is happening this moment as I think it. The older I get, the more immediate are the scraps of experience that have made me who I am. Death may be final but, I assure you, the prelude is a wild and worthy ride.
While I may sound to you like a doddering old woman well beyond a certain age, I can assure you that I know some things. Above all, I know that one should live in such a way so as not to rack up shreds of guilt and regret. They come back to haunt you. And likewise, secrets. They grind at your soul until there’s nothing left. Admittedly, few people can achieve great age without a few secrets, even people who have lived admirably. But strive to keep them simple or their tentacles will turn to malignant blooms inside you. You will suffer greatly this cancer of faith.
Instead, have courage. Be true to yourself and others. Live fully. Life is a treacherous journey but if you intend justice and step forth with good intentions, you will not venture far from the path. I can’t say you will prosper because much of life is a crapshoot. But you will be, in your dotage, far better off than had you not heeded my words.
When I was twenty-three, I didn’t think my life would ever end. At thirty-three, I settled down enough to raise a child. At forty, I began to survey my surroundings. What can I say? I was a late bloomer. At any rate, I proceeded to take that vital inner inventory and to assess my human status. You see, I was all set to put an end to my life if it held no meaning for myself or anyone else. I knew I was important to my daughter and to a small smattering of other friends and relations who seemed to “get me” on some level. But there had to be more. I was vain enough to insist that my life be significant, even in some small way, to humanity writ large.
So, I figured out what was important to me and I concentrated on those things. I started an animal rescue organization because I’m convinced that a good dog (or cat) in a person’s life changes them for the better. I went about the important work of matching up those dogs to those people. And I wrote books to entertain the few souls who would happen upon them and be curious enough to explore the works of some pontificating no-name author. Entertainment is often the door to enlightenment. Moreover, I tried to be nice to people. I tried not to gossip, to blame, to denigrate or to stare. I tried to recognize my own kind when I met them and to welcome them inside.
By the time I reached my fifties, I believed I’d hit my stride. I was fortunate enough to travel and experience the larger world outside my door. Seeing how the other half lived, as it were, was an eye opener. China, Europe, South America, the Islands, wherever I went, it changed me. Even the lowly week-end road trips gave me a sense of renewal. I once rented a remote cabin in the woods for two weeks to rest and work on a writing project. I encountered not another living soul, just kept my own counsel and moved forward with my little craft, and I had by the end of the fortnight come away with an altered perspective. For me, putting one foot in front of the other has been magic.
Change is important. Don’t stagnate. Whatever you think you must do in your life, find some time to grow and renew. You’re no good to anyone else if you can’t walk the walk on your own terms. This is essential.
I don’t mean to preach. We each have our own destiny to fulfill. I can’t and won’t tell you how to live your life. I’m just telling you what’s worked for me. But I look around and see so many people just drifting. They have designated their jobs or their domestic situations as their life’s work and they wonder why they feel they are in a rut. Step outside. Live your dreams. Be foolish. Fail. Getting up and trying again is the only sure road to success.
And, believe me, I have taken some ill-conceived risks. I left school to pursue love. Later, I left that love to chase my own tail. Then I did an abrupt about-face and built a professional career. And I left that to pull shivering puppies out from under porches and cradle them to my bosom. It’s been, as they say, a real trip. It hasn’t all been perfect. Sometimes it has even been catastrophic. But it was my journey. No guilt. No regrets.
Now I am almost seventy and I can’t believe how fast the years have piled up around me.
I am not wise. I have the example of my parents to tell me how not to live. I have the joy of slobbery, playful puppies to guide me on my path. I have the curiosity that has blossomed amid a sea of folly to wend me on my way. Without those things, I would surely falter. I would almost certainly fail to be a person whose presence matters. I would have ended it long ago without those guideposts to buoy me.
And secrets? I have a few. But they are silly and of no consequence. I can take them out when I am alone. I can stroke them in the dark and feel the silkiness of the cobwebs that hold them. They are mine alone to examine and appreciate, like shiny gems of little value.
In the end, I only want to warn you. Live a big life. Cultivate a sense of humor. You too will find yourself careening down the snowy hill of years into the abyss. Take the time to look around you. It’s all there. Your triumphs and your failings. See that they are one and the same. See that they have made you who you are. Just make sure there is something there to see.
At sixty-eight, my eyes can still focus on goals and intentions, hopes and dreams. My hands can still reach out and feel the soft fur of puppies and the cut of the written word. I still have time to travel and love and embrace my failings. The pull of years has slowed but not stopped me. I am. And I will be.
Linda Caradine is a Portland, Oregon based writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her essays have appeared extensively in the literary journals, including RavensPerch, Summerset Review, Free State Review, Cobalt Review, Adelaide, and others. Caradine is currently seeking representation for her first novel and is working on her second.