“As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be you can’t see how it is.” (Ram Das) One of the blessings of aging is finally easing up on the ideas of how we think things should go and focusing instead on making the best of how they do go. Life gives us practice in contingency planning, and it is never more needed than in the later years.
One of my favorite songwriters and performers, Leonard Cohen, was looking forward to his “golden years” when he learned that his trusted financial advisor had made off with his savings. At first glance, this was a disastrous situation at the end of a long working career. Leonard Cohen realized that things were what they were and lost no time going back out on the concert circuit to enjoy one of the highest points in his career. One of those high moments happened here in Kansas City at the Midland Theatre! Whatever the circumstances, at the time of life when finances should be secure, sometimes they are not. Whether starting a second career or choosing to live an entirely new lifestyle, setbacks can be more of an opportunity than a disaster when we can see how it is and move forward.
Sometimes our families also do not seem to turn out the way we once thought they should. The holidays have a way of bringing this to our attention. A couple whose children were not traveling home to be with family for the holiday decided to start a new tradition of their own, going out for a special dinner rather than putting the children on a guilt trip for not coming home. Giving up unrealistic expectations of other family members can make the difference in our ability to accept and enjoy one another for who we have become without the burden of “ought.”
The grace of aging well is built on flexibility and resilience. Starting with “what is” and finding ways to make that acceptable and even enjoyable makes more sense than focusing on what falls short of expectations. Sometimes even an unwanted change in plan is the beginning of something far better than we could have imagined. Leonard Cohen writes, “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”