On a cold wintry day we visit my aunt. She is my mother’s youngest sister, now in her mid 90s, slowed by a stroke more than a decade ago, but still strong and healthy. When we arrive, she is seated at the dining room table, neatly dressed and groomed, reading the morning newspaper.
She is amazing, an incredibly active senior until the stroke eased her pace and voice, yet still with a bright smile, a quick laugh, a light in her eyes as she catches sight of her visitors. She is not only alive, but very much present.
Behind her, in front of the window, there’s a gorgeous burst of greenery, with just a spot of red peeking through its leafy fronds. It’s a Christmas cactus, that we had brought her the year before, then a small grocery store plant in a five inch plastic pot, now a green behemoth overflowing the sill.
I am in awe.
Of the cactus, and my aunt.
So it is as Tu B’Shevat approaches, and we are thinking about trees, and more specifically about their growth, their propensity to sprout new branches and leaves, and I’m thinking about our own potential to do the same.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that this this past year, confronting what seems to be the ever swifter passage of time and our own aging, and the human need to embrace it and keep going, keep growing.
A surgical procedure to improve my declining hearing, friends and family dealing with serious health issues, gave me pause.
And yet, my own experience, and the prospect of bettering my life with more acute hearing, led me to elect to undergo the procedure and begin the arduous process of training my brain to hear and process speech differently, circumventing natural hearing and acclimating to miraculous new technology. It’s a process that requires patience, perseverance and practice, I was admonished when I embarked. It also required growing into a new hairdo.
I opted to go longer, to change my look of almost four decades, to provide a little more coverage of my new computerized device; it soon became another exercise in patience. It put me on a learning curve, not only about how trivial appearance is, but how change, even a hairstyle, is a growth experience.
And we do need to grow, especially at this time of our lives, as we age, as we may walk a little slower, forget a name or a word, or even where we last left our reading glasses.
We need to think of how we are growing in developing new skills or behaviors to accommodate the natural losses of aging. We need to learn to be more accepting of ourselves, more grateful for what we can do, not what we can’t. We need to grow in gratitude and joy, in peace and contentment. But we also need to find new ways to grow intellectually, emotionally, socially, to find what speaks to us, what feeds our souls. And do it.
It might be a hike through the woods, a long walk with the dog, visiting a shut in, cooking a meal for a friend.
Or reading a new book, learning a new language, taking up cooking, or painting or poetry. Or yoga, meditation, tai chi.
Or resolving to continue to page through the news every day, like my aunt.
Just grow, sprout new leaves, seek out a new path, try something you’ve never done before.
And those things that I can no longer do, the marathon run, the black diamond ski slope, the hike up Kilimanjaro?
Let it go.