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  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

The Withering Time

My sixties were an exhilarating and dynamic time. I’ve managed to stay active my entire life and as I entered the decade that marks the passage of older age, I continued to hike, walk, swim, kayak and wander in and out of the Pilates studio. I do not regret the accumulating years, but feel grateful to have lived long enough to have the wisdom born of vantage point.

The autumn leaves on the old oak tree outside burn brightly in orange and gold. When she catches glints of sunlight between her branches, she lights up my world with beauty and awe. If this is what aging is, then I shall be forever vibrant, I remember thinking. But this year, my seventieth year, I realize the truth that everything changes and ends.

After the leaves shimmer in the cool breezes of the season’s change, they wither and turn brown, eventually falling to ground where they become sustenance for the next cycle of life which depends upon their decay. The compost from the tree’s shedding will feed the green buds of spring and new beginnings.

Nature continues to teach me in these later years and I see that like the tree, I too have begun the withering time. Though I continue to be physically active everyday, I’m beginning to feel how my body is tighter and less elastic, how I tire more easily and require more sleep. I’m aware that I have to honor the breakdown: My Pilates movements mirror this. Those routines are much slower and more deliberate now, concentrating on breath and articulation, rather than speed. Hiking demands more awareness and caution, and I can easily imagine the value of a good walking stick in my near future.

It’s not just the physical changes that are happening. My mind and heart continue to change as well. I’m an eager student again, loving to learn. I study the ideas of personal mythology which have grown out of a decades long admiration for Carl Jung, Maria Von Franz and Joseph Campbell. I’m currently reading a book called A Poet’s Craft, by Annie Finch – learning about form and meter, line breaks and inspiration. I’m grateful that I find purpose and excitement in such things. All of this learning has led me to play.

I never wanted to recapture my youth. I hadn’t realized though, how much I wanted to reclaim my child heart. As a little girl, I built altars in the forest with rocks and twigs. I sang and danced and found the delights of creation in that. Now, I make poems and draw pictures or do collage in my writing notebooks. I arrange the tiny teapot and a small table and chairs that have found a home outside of my kitchen door. I paint rocks. I’m making 4 inch by 5 inch books, called Zines, just because. (Zine is short for magazine.) I’m making one about the lights I’ve found to guide me in the dark of a new winter.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . . wrote T.S. Eliot in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock, the carefully placed ellipses trailing off . . . because to grow old is a remarkable and noble passage that cannot be conveyed.

In spite of naïve but best intentions, I was surprised when I started to feel my body slowly breaking down. What do I have left? Another ten years, maybe fifteen? And while the realization of such things are stark and piercing, I still do not despair. I find myself returning to a place where what is most important is the making of things. Not for the sake of accolades, but for the joy of creating.

I’ve stepped back from social media a bit, appreciating the connections and touch-ins with those hearts who've touched mine. But, I no longer consider words like "influencer" or "platform" as having any meaning or value at all for me. I care about love and loving. I care about tearing pictures out of magazines to make collages, pasted around my poems. I care about staying curious and grateful. I care about creating things of beauty. As my friend Rebecca recently said to me, “I want to create something that will serve. And it will find its way. It's not about fortune or fame anyway -- it's the work.”

The work of being in my seventies. The idea of that makes me smile. With each passing year I still do my best to live life so gratefully that the extraordinary is constantly revealed to me within the profundity of that which is called ordinary. Like the brilliant tree whose flaming leaves curl and brown, preparing to become nourishment for new beginnings (creating something that will serve). This is the beauty of I grow old . . . I grow old . . . This is the rapture of the withering time.

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