Sunday, May 31, 2015

A quality of life

Quality of life. Mostly I think of this phrase when thinking about very old people - not me for sure! - and  how they want to live in their final years. It's almost a catchphrase, calling up choices for the elderly.

This week I thought about quality of life in terms of how things are going right now for me and mine. I had this idea, when I quit working, five years ago, that I'd continue to set goals for myself and continue to keep a to-do list as well as a bucket list. I did that for about the first three years. But it's different now.

I think it changed when my husband Art had a cardiac arrest a year ago last January. He's fine now - living normally with a pacemaker/IED and a few meds - but the impact of that event has remained with me. The ups and downs of fear and uncertainly, the exploration to find a cause, the occasional episodes that send us to the ER or Urgent Care, the realization that we do not, indeed, have forever to live - have shifted how I am living. I didn't really think about it until tonight, when I looked back at my calendar for the past week. 

I've talked before about the values that define my priorities: spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose. They're still a pretty accurate description of what's important, even with the shift.

I'm so glad for my decision to join a church last year. My UU community is exactly right for me. Most weeks I attend Sunday services and I am always moved - near to tears most weeks - by the openness and exploration and vitality of the hour I spend there. Wonderful music, wisdom from the pulpit, meaningful rituals. I had no idea such a spiritual community was even out there. I participate in a couple of small groups there - one with Art - and we have become little bonded communities. 

I'm still committed to eating right and getting exercise, though I do not always meet my own expectations. During May I cut bread, dairy and pasta from my diet. I'd say I was about 85% faithful to that discipline, and I'll continue on with it now that I have lost my craving for cheese. I do water exercise several times a week, walk a couple of miles a couple of times a week, and ride my bicycle with my sister Alyx once a week or so. This weekend we rode 11 miles on Saturday, and we plan to increase the distance by a couple of miles each time we head out. Again, I'm about 85% faithful to that schedule, because some mornings I have other commitments and have to skip the swimming. I have in my mind that I want to walk sections of the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the next year. But it's not a burning desire I have to travel now. It's an impulse to have meaningful times, and that walk would be one of them.

Community. It's no longer something I strive for. It's something I'm experiencing. I am amazed by the people who are my friends. I am a one-on-one friend type person, and several times a week I have lunch or coffee with someone. This week I had that lovely experience on Wednesday with Carol, Thursday with Marilyn and Friday with Vicki. I emerge from those conversations enriched and grateful. Such fabulous women! I'm lucky to have met every one of them. I will have a hard time when I leave them for the winter. 

Curiosity will ever  be with me, as I'm a lifelong learner. I recently decided to abandon the effort to keep up with the magazines I subscribe to, and will only be renewing Atlantic and The Sun when the time comes. Now I'm reading books again, both fiction and nonfiction. Recommendations from friends,  mostly, but a couple I read years ago that I want to revisit. On Wednesday afternoon I lay on the couch for three hours and read a Jodi Picoult novel. It has been years since I indulged myself that way.

And purpose. I'm now the lead mediator for district court small claims when I'm in town. Every other Tuesday a half a dozen mediators work with a dozen or so cases to help people resolve their issues without going to trial. I had my first lead experience last week. I'm quite comfortable speaking to a group. I forgot about six things I should have said, but we have a strong team and the others provided the missing information. 

And laughter! Not on my list of priorities, but definitely frosting on the cake. I have laughed so much this week: with my women friends, my husband Art and sister Alyx and brother-in-law Virgil and stepson Peter and neighbor Jennie. Their stories, our common experiences, our aging complaints, our weight, our quirks. It's only been in the last ten years or so that I've developed a sense of humor. It's like a gift.

The cool thing is that this quality of life I'm living isn't something I worked hard for or even deserve. It's almost like it has just come to me, like winning the lottery of intangibles. I did have goals and I continue to have priorities in my values, but I'm not toiling to achieve them. They seem to be just happening.

Art has a remote device on the wall in our bedroom that tracks his heart rhythm and notifies his cardiologist if something irregular is detected. Right now all is well, but that may not always be the case. I am learning to live with the uncertainty. In the meantime, though, I wake up every morning with gratitude for all the goodness of right now.


Olga said...

Very nice post, Linda. I am a firm believer in finding contentment with what is over the pursuit of perfection. Let's face it, so darn few of us are able to reach that perfection thing. I want to follow a path of joy and gratitude, but for what is ahead.. sometimes it is the stumbles that help me focus on the road signs.

Teresa Evangeline said...

What a beautiful post, Linda. I was just thinking about how I've come to the conclusion that more than anything else I want peace in my life, and most days I achieve that. I have no desire or need for drama of any kind.

It sounds like you opened yourself to all these wonderful possibilities and they showed up. Exactly how it should work.

DJan said...

One of the things that aging has given me is a sense of the brevity of life. I got old while I was busy doing something else, and now that my days are limited, I appreciate them even more. Your wonderful post shows that is true for you, Linda. I look forward to our extended visit in October! :-)

MoMA said...

Very thoughtful post. Love your writing style.

Arkansas Patti said...

You have just penned a synopsis of a balanced life. I am glad you are not so driven now and can just sit back and enjoy. That you have found a sense of humor is a blessing. Laughter keeps us young, sane and if you listen to the doctors, well. Keep enjoying.

Linda Reeder said...

Linda, these things have "just happened" because you have cultivated them, as Teresa said, you have "opened yourself up to all these wonderful possibilities". And best of all, you have discovered your sense of humor. That serves us all well as we age.
Your contemplative posts always make me think too. I'm not sure about "purpose", but I certainly have plenty going on. Life is good.

Monica Smith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom said...

What strikes me is how your values like spirituality, community, friendship, etc., are directed outwardly, not inwardly ... a good reminder that life is not all about me, me, me, but all about us, us, us. And for that reminder, I will have a better day. Thanks!

jo said...

Hi Linda,
Thanks for all your insights about aging. I am also taking a
strong stand on aging issues.
This week I am on a bike trip in Denver. Enjoying fresh air and

Madeline Kasian said...

I appreciate your blog so much! Ken and I retired a little over a year ago.So many things have not gone as "planned!" I also over-committed all over the place. We moved to a climate that isn't working out for me! So-- we're in the midst of a re-boot.At first I felt like a retirement "failure" but am now accepting, hopefully with some grace, that the first year is an experiment (maybe the second year too!!) . From your blog I see that this cycle of life is a process.. not a destination! I'm wokring on gratitude and insight, hoping that the changes we're making will bring some balance..