Breath & Shadow
Winter 2021 - Vol. 18, Issue 1
"Entering the Age of Owning It"
Lindsey Morrison Grant
In March 2020 I turned sixty-five years old. It's a milestone in Western culture... and a millstone around the neck of those of us subject to ageist assumptions.
Stumbling upon a quote by notable American businessman Bernard Baruch, I was both encouraged and amused. “Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can't retire his experience. He must use it. Experience achieves more with less energy and time.”
Naturally, the quote feels dated (Baruch died in 1965) as it addresses age-discrimination, but is gender-specific. Nevertheless, it made me think that comparing the exuberance of youth to the perspective of years, is not unlike comparing the view through a microscope to the one from the summit of Mt. Everest.
Focusing on detailed information-gathering is always an essential element of our human growth processes of problem-solving. Curiosity is invaluable and at the core of our survival. However, surviving the turbulence of Life's missteps with grace is refreshing as mountain air. The unencumbered “view” from old age is breath-taking.
The air is thinner up here on Old Fart Mountain, but could not be more pure. Although oft times the view is obscured by ingrained assumptions, social mores and culturally imposed standards it's most egregiously polluted by externally-imposed achievement qualifiers. If all goes well though, from here we can see how acquiring wisdom is greater than hoarding housefuls of worthless shit.
From the cradle and throughout our lifetimes, expectations are imposed. The hopes and dreams of parents, teachers and institutions begin to define us as we race toward those hurdles to achieve safety, security and acceptance. However, they are imposed and not intrinsic markers. They mold who we become, erected by imposing guilt and shame for 1 failure, rewarding compliance and adherence.
The refreshment of innovation comes at a cost. The race is won when if we change course and steer toward intangible goals of integrity, ingenuity, introspection and personal accountability rather than staying the course of assumed safety provided by the social- vaccine of ignorance and herd-immunity of lemmings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has “aged” a generation. It has offered a mountain-top perspective without traversing the trauma and enduring the years that usually precede it. The social/emotional tumult coupled with its insecurities have caused a cataclysm of historical consequence. With that suffering has come and is coming an enlightenment regarding our human frailty, mortality and need for one another. It has presented us an opportunity to shift our values and readjust our priorities. This is generally the opportunity afforded retirees, but the Earth has gifted humankind this opportunistic virus for a purpose. Now, I'm really not a Pollyanna-type, and despise the “lemons to lemonade” analogy, but I believe that finding the reward in a given experience is empowering. It makes an intolerable experience more palatable; Mary Poppins' “Spoonful of sugar” to sweeten the life-lesson elixir. It is the antithesis of the cultural default of simply finding the most convenient person, place or thing upon which to lay blame. Blame-shifting and lack of personal accountability are not safe or in any way admirable. They are cowardly and dis-empowering. They are the inexcusable excuses employed by those who practice responsibility-shifting untethered by ethical norms and they become the reputation-breaking burden for those who allow this to continue unchecked.
The lesson of the COVID-19 era's omnipresent triple threat of Virus/Civil Unrest/Climate Calamities is manifest in biblical proportion and is this: in order to encourage our survival we have been tossed out of our Garden of Complacency and into real-world, real- time accountability. According to the story, the inhabitants of the Original Garden were evicted despite their blame-shifting attempts and to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life and living eternally. In like-manner, we are left naked, ashamed and banished from our Paradise of Naivete.
Our politics are meant to reflect our humanity, not to put us in contention with it. Our environment is a reflection of our humanity, as well. COVID-19 and the US government's lackluster and deceitful response to it is our responsibility. It is the Earth's forlorn cry for attention and due respect, as heart-wrenching as a mother weeping for a wayward child or heartbreak when her children lash out at one another. We must own the era, just as I must own turning 65. It does not have to be perceived as a calamity, but can present an opportunity. It is not the end, but a chance to begin anew. To paraphrase the late President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what the Earth can do for you. Ask what you are willing and able to do for her.”
As for me, from here, atop Old Fart Mountain, I can see my choice quite clearly: choose to enter the Age of Owning it or choose Owning shit; The Intangible and Eternal or forever glued to the Home Shopping Network and anxiously awaiting Amazon's Daily Deals; Mindful Meditations or Conspicuous Consumption; Connecting on a harmonious highway or left ruminating over the ruinous wreckage of 'what could have been.'
There is really no one to blame when your eyes are open.
Self-identifying as a neurodiverse, two-spirit, elder storyteller with deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, Lindsey Morrison Grant's mindful efforts for recovery and to maintain wellness are attributed to an invaluable support network, personal accountability, meditation, and practicing creative expression in Words, Sounds, and Images.