A Dry, Gin Martini
Aging, women friends, being out in the world and elder wisdom.
I just invited myself to dinner with a dry, gin martini and olives at our neighborhood restaurant. I’ve been wanting a martini for a while now. Things have been piling up—from a cruel attack on women’s rights to the realization that there is no safe place in the US, not in schools, not at concerts, not in churches, not at a July 4th parade. Then, this morning, I visited a long-time friend, who is 89. She said something which struck me as profound; she said, ‘I’ve given up suffering.’
I run an organization, called At Home With Growing Older, which offers programs to help people come to terms with and manage the experiences of aging, emotionally and physically, from their bodies to their homes. Becoming “at home with growing older” includes those exhilarating moments when one realizes one has become wiser with age, as well as acknowledges the losses associated with older age and finally gains the confidence to live with an imperfect body and mind.
Giving up suffering seems a big part of that process. For me, it feels like the work of being “at home with growing older” is harder than ever right now. I’m only 65, my friend is 89. Sometimes I think I can’t do the work. What if I don’t do it? What if I don’t invite friends and venture out? What if I don’t exercise? What if I stop engaging intellectually? I can easily get stuck in these fear-based fantasies. I want at least to project a positive way forward for my 23-year-old son. But, then, that recently got derailed when he and his girlfriend told me the other day that the most important thing is to learn how to deal with grief—since most likely their children will not know what bees are.
As I sip my dry, gin martini, seated on a little patio along with other diners, I decide that being out in the world is one of the best things one can do for one’s sanity and the work of growing older. With the exception of one family, I notice all the tables are occupied by women, women who are listening to each other, talking politics, giving each other advice, and laughing with one another. I catch bits of their conversations, and it just feels good to be in the company of other women and realize that I’m not alone. “Protect your sanity and shine it on me,” Glen Campbell’s lyrics from a recent road trip come to mind. We laughed and made fun of them at the time, but I realize that’s exactly what we need to do for each other, from now on.
Susanne Stadler is an architect, co-founder of At Home With Growing Older, and an Encore Public Voices Fellow