Once More ‘Round the Sun

2015I had intended to write and post this on the first day of the new year. The advantage of being your own publisher is that no one yells at you when a deadline slips.

Or, maybe the deadline was arbitrary. Yesterday, I did not know what to say about this upcoming journey ‘round the sun.

This year will be my 66th trip around the sun (I turn 66 in October).

A friend proudly posted on her Facebook page that the quiz she took assured her that her real age was 51. She is my age. My comment was, do you notice how much older younger is?

Thirty-five years ago, I joined the Gray Panthers in San Francisco, an organization started by Maggie Kuhn to fight ageism. Its motto was youth and age in action. I had just completed a life story on my grandmother to honor her 90th birthday. I was about to turn 30—an age that use to be a sign that a woman was getting past her prime. Two years earlier a headline blared that Farrah Fawcett was turning 30 and still looked pretty good, but, oh, my, she was 30.

As I contemplated what it meant to have lived three decades, I realized my grandmother had lived nine, and that there just might be something interesting in recording nine decades of experience.

It was interesting. Among other things, I found out she was surprised when she saw herself in the mirror. She still thought of herself as the 14-year old girl captured by the owner of the photography studio in town.

The people I met in the Gray Panthers had lives that were pretty much the polar opposite of my grandmother’s. A couple of the men had been a part of the Abraham Lincoln brigade. I met Harry Bridges, who helped form the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (for which he was prosecuted by the U.S. Government during the 30s, 40s, and 50s). A woman had been married to one of the Hollywood Ten—ten writers and directors who were blacklisted in Hollywood and sent to prison for publicly denouncing the tactics employed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The women who had taken part in the labor movement noted how sexist it was.

I joined the Board, was elected co-convenor (similar to president of the Board), and learned a treasure trove of skills I didn’t know existed (like how to run a meeting). My life took a new trajectory because of my involvement—these were people who had pretty much spent their lives swimming against the current. It ended up not being a good fit for me because I didn’t see everything in political terms, but they gave me permission to swim against the current.

About the same time, I volunteered at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) as a hospice volunteer. Within six-months SFGH became a ground zero in the AIDS epidemic. I learned another treasure trove of skills by being a hospice volunteer—the most significant was learning to be a witness. That’s what we were taught: our job was to be a witness to death. Not to fix it, make it better, or make it go away. But simply to be a witness.

So, where am I going with all this? I have no idea. I just know that the phrase I woke to yesterday, January 1, 2015, was “Once more around the sun.” There was some kind of clarity to that—clarity that I have no idea what this next trip around the sun will bring.

It seems fresh, however. Perhaps because I have now been in my new environment for once and half more around the sun, I have left behind what seemed familiar to make room for the unfamiliar. To go where I have never been before. To explore the path of a woman growing older.

It seems absurd now that 30 ever seemed like a death knell for a woman. That her best years were behind her. I remember that picture of of Farrah Fawcett at 30, her perfect body clothed in a one-piece swim suit, with her Farrah-Fawcett hair and sparkling smile. She seemed vacuous to me even at the time.

As I did my research for this blog, I came across one of her obituaries, titled “What Farrah Fawcett can teach us about anal cancer.”

She was 62 when she died in 2009. She died young, her body not so perfect anymore. Not because it didn’t look perfect, but because of what had happened to it. She did not have the opportunity to explore the path of a woman growing older. But she certainly took a courageous path by talking openly about a cancer that no one really wants to think about. Not so vacuous after all.

Once more ’round the sun. Who knows what lies ahead? I’m glad I waited until I had something to say before I made a blog post.