Sitting on Mac and Audrey’s porch-deck, listening to the calls of birds I don’t recognize. Yet. Could be in the mourning dove family, for the three “ooh, ooh, ooh” calls at the end of a sequence, but they throw in a high-and then-low series of notes, and I’m trying to imagine what they look like on perch.
It’s great to be here in Dupree, South Dakota.
The trip out was brutal the first day—17 hours on the road, and Patrick’s driving stamina wearing thin in spots, but he rallied, after I had helped where I safely could (2 1/2 hours’ drive time while he napped in the shotgun seat), and rolled us into Pipestone, to rest our weary traveler bones at the America’s Best Inn for at least eight hours, until checkout time at 11:00. We missed the free continental breakfast, and felt smart about choosing sleep over waffles.
It takes me longer now to recover from a day of hard miles on the road. I suppose I must accept that I’m really not thirty anymore, and won’t be again on this Side. But I still expect that I can do all the activities I used to do, and at the pace I used to do them. My body is trying to coach me through this period of denial, and she’s a patient, but sometimes harsh teacher. She knows what will get my attention (the episodic sciatica, blood sugar drops, and edema in my feet), and plays those cards with precision timing against my arrogance. Eventually, I submit and stop moving, as she tried to tell me to do, nicely, four hours previously.
I’m struggling with this whole aging thing. Not any different from anyone else in that weird mid-life phase that is going on its fifteenth year now, but it’s mine for the first time, and so I get to plead resistant newcomer status. Does anyone really “age gracefully”? I’m stuck on the “gracefully” part of that misnomer. Understanding first what grace is seems to be essential. Then we can tack on that aging part and see if they really fit together to describe the experience.
When I hear the word “grace”, I imagine it as a mantle on the shoulders of a person who is also peaceful from the inside out. This is someone not fussed by external adversity, because her soulful core is anchored in the solid fact that she is good, and capable, and strong. Grace means that she doesn’t let petty annoyances move her to harsh-toned words. Grace chooses her words for her, and they are compassionate ones. She isn’t immune to the sharper side of own human-ness; she simply doesn’t allow it to lead her actions, or even her thoughts. On rough days, when she’s tired and irritable, she directs the conversation inward, soothes and talks herself through that with ample helpings of self-compassion. She accepts that there will be other days and moments like this one, and so she can keep her eye on how she’ll feel when those moments pass. She also knows how to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
I see grace as a practice toward compassionate acceptance, and a deep desire to invite others to relax into the reality that surrounds them. Grace understands that no one hits a home run the first time or every time at bat; she cheers the rules of the game that allow for second chances. She is the grandmotherly “there there”, the comfortable and wise lap that I crawl up and into when I feel misunderstood, done wrong, injured, and excluded. Even if my circumstances are the result of my own misguided choices, she loves and accepts me anyway, and encourages me to see things differently, starting with my own unfinished self.
If any or all of that is even the slightest bit true, then the idea of “aging gracefully” is completely plausible. So is “growing gracefully”, and “forgiving gracefully”, and “accepting gracefully”. Grace softens the rough edges of those and other challenging human experiences, and inches us forward to our intended origins as individuals (whom did the Creator imagine us to be, before we Became?), and as a collective of people trying our best to hang together in service and celebration. Let the bone aches and gray hair come. We will be ready for those moments, from the inside out, and show the young ones they’ve nothing to fear, really, as their own sciatica awaits delivery in the coming decades. They will still be valued, still belong to the tribe, still be loved and treasured for who they are, not what their bodies can or cannot still do.
In this moment, sitting and not moving, no miles racing beneath the tires of the truck, I can let all of my aging self rest secure in the knowledge that I’ve earned this spot, I’ve worked hard for it, and be grateful I’ve been given one more road trip with the man of my dreams.