*** Post has been updated to correct the original title of ‘five decades’ old. LOL. Guess I wasn’t really paying attention after all!
Today I am SIX decades old. Sixty. Writing the word feels surreal, signaling the beginning of a decade that I have been looking forward to, but was always still way out there. A friend wrote me a few weeks back saying he hoped I had big plans for the BIG birthday coming up. I wrote back and said I’d be sliding very non-chalantly into my 61st year. Pressing, he asked, is that the non-chalantly as in with grace, ease, celebration and aplomb, or the non-chalantly as in if I pretend this isn’t happening it will be another day of living spontaneously? To which I replied, No denial here! Definitely spontaneously! I’ve always said (and known) that my sixties were going to be some of my best years…
Which is true. The knowing that is. So here I am. It is an ordinary, not so ordinary day. I have not made plans. I was truly going to see where the day led me. My daughter Molly came down this morning with a wrapped gift in her hands and a big smile on her face. I shook the box and cried out with pleasure, a puzzle!, and ripped open the package. What a fun surprise. I can’t remember saying out loud recently how much I’d like to do a puzzle, but the desire has been there and somehow she knew. A thousand tiny pieces to put in order. The sun came up. Within a half hour I had a table set up in the porch room dedicated to this effort, where I could sit with this new pleasure surrounded by the beauty of the land I get to live with.
Another half hour and I had all the edge pieces set aside. When I finally sat down to begin, I felt the rush of anticipation I remember feeling as a child. We are never too old to feel this way.
As I worked the edges into place, I reflected on the significance of having a clear border to work within. I considered how six full decades of living have given me the structure to move into my sixties with. Most memories of my first decade are rooted in playing and having fun. Playing wasn’t as prominent in my second, third, fourth & fifth decades, the years of making career, family, and stable life. When I finished the edges of the puzzle, I began to lay out the rest of the pieces, making little groupings of like colors, a first attempt at finding the order in the 1945 New Yorker cover called ‘farm calendar’. Twelve images of country life. They could be blocks of a quilt.
The pleasure of childhood abandon merges with the joy of where I feel my energy as an artist today. Giving myself permission to sit and play is a gift. Letting myself celebrate my sensitivities is a gift. Even if it opens up spaces for feeling tough feelings. The last time I did a puzzle was with my parents about five years ago. Mom loves puzzles too, but it is sitting at the table working silently with my father that I remember most about that particular time. A dear friend lost her fifteen year old son last week. It is an unfathomable thought, and my heart breaks for her. A flow of grief moves through and my fingers turn over a few more pieces. I anchor sadness I feel for another friend who struggles with a debilitating illness, in the pink border of one edge. I cherish my solitude, even if it means not moving out into the world in the way I did when I was younger. I consider the sadness I can feel for the losses in my own life, beginning to fit the pieces together now, remembering that I can also let the beauty and awe experienced in any moment, be enough.
When the phone rang and I saw it was Meg, I thought, how perfect. We’ve never forgotten each other’s birthdays in the fifty-three years we have known each other. She loves puzzles too. Her presence in my life, a kindred creative spirit, reminds me of a way of living that I have gratefully found in the sixth decade of my life. I am learning to trust that the people I love, and the people who love me, will always be there. There is much to celebrate. And still so many choices to be made. Being here, playing with my puzzle, feeling everything that there is to feel, makes moving into the next decade something to look forward to.