by Kathy Pigg
I am sitting in a chair at my son’s house. The television remote is in my hand, and the channels are unfamiliar. I would like to watch something, but I have pushed the wrong sequence of buttons before and found only visual and auditory static. I do not want to do that again. I could call him on his cell phone and get a reminder of how to operate the television. I have his number memorized, but he might be in the midst of some important business, and I don’t want to interrupt him.
My unfamiliar feet
I look at my feet because my toes are cold. At his house we park our shoes at the front door on the first of four levels, a custom he picked up in Russia. I look down and think, “These are not my feet.” My feet are plain. My toenails are plain, the color of their surrounding flesh. Utilitarian feet. They get me where I am going—most of the time.
The feet I see on the floor have red toenails. Yet these are the feet attached to me.
I do a quick recalculation of reality. I recently celebrated entrance into my 70th year, and today I gave these feet their first pedicure, the deluxe package complete with a massage and red toenail polish.
I have never thought too much about my feet, never considered them beautiful, and sometimes even called them ugly. God forgive me. Now I notice my feet: the structure of their bones and the shape of veins carrying life around my body.
My pedicure had begun with a utilitarian purpose. Arthritis had made trimming the nails more difficult. I think I chose red polish instead of the plain and practical flesh color because something else was occurring in this beauty ritual for me, something internal and eternal.
At the least it included a desire to respect the body that has carried me for so long and to appreciate the feet that will take me into and through my next portion of years. Even if I stumble over accumulated infirmities, the blood will still circulate through them until I pass into eternal life.
The challenge of aging.
Aging is challenging. There are losses and fears and questions. Does my life have meaning and purpose when I am not able to do what I was once valued for? Have I done what is purposeful in the sight of God up to this point? Will I be abandoned and alone because of disease or infirmity? Will I outlive all my friends? Do I look and act my age?
I admit I have encountered all of these. They are similar to the fears and questions of other periods of life, but as I approach the end of what is known by sight and sound and touch, they can seem to be out of control at times.
When I first retired I had difficulty dealing with the ups and downs of entering this stage of life. I felt I had no status because I was unemployed, no longer a professional —a minister— and the center of attention (which can be both good and bad!). I seemed to have no connection to what had been so important to me, even though I tried to make connections. There was no longer a professional ladder of aspirations, a network of colleagues engaged in similar projects in their churches, and no longer the same expectations of me. In my transition from pulpit to pew, I was experiencing “status inconsistency,” according to my sociologically-trained friend. It helped to give my feelings a name.
Over the four years since I retired, status inconsistency has given way to other experiences. The most positive has been the time for further development of my artistic talents—a calling that had yearned for expression in the busy years of serving as a pastor to several congregations, but time was always rushed. And I have been blessed with appreciation for my work as an artist in this period of my life. For me, the intersection of visual art and the religious journey is too easily ignored in our culture. I do not consider my art to be a diversion in my retirement years, or a hobby; it is a genuine calling.
At the same time, I have begun to notice a decline in energy and a body no longer willing to follow me wherever my mind chooses to go.
Aging is certainly known to pharmaceutical and financial firms. The people who appear in the television commercials for pills and retirement plans are successfully overcoming aging without being affected by it. They indicate that the changes associated with getting older are not “real” for those who take the right pill or put their money in the right financial account.
The people in these ads do not walk more slowly. They do not struggle with what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to because they might need to take a nap. Nor do they choose wheelchair cuts over curbs because of bad knees. Apparently these people are not experiencing any kind of difficulty — at least no difficulty that can’t be fixed with a certain product.
A quarter-life crisis
A friend has a daughter in her mid-twenties who had been struggling to figure out what she was going to do with her life now that she had a college degree and a job and a Prius. So she decided to quit her job and go for a graduate degree. Her mother, who teaches at a community college, called her questioning and restlessness her “quarter life crisis.”
About the same time I read the musings of another friend as he looked back at his life from the vantage point of midlife and tried to understand how and why he got to the place he is now.
Perhaps the angst of this period after the status inconsistency realization could be called my “three-quarter life crisis.” Yes, the name is a good fit.
Honoring my body
So as I go through what I now call my three-quarter life crisis, I must be open to dialogue with my physical body. It tells me: “Exercise, Kathy, or you will slowly lose my ability to carry you around, and pay attention to your sleep apnea or you’ll stop breathing. Avoid fast food that even your dog won’t eat. Naps can be good medicine. Prayer and meditation are no longer additions to your busy schedule but absolutely necessary to get you through. You have things to accomplish and I want to help you get past this life crisis with spiritual, mental, and physical energy.”
My body speaks more loudly these days — I guess to make sure I hear it.
Thank you, Feet!
So today in honor and recognition of the importance of my body in the angst of this three-quarter life crisis, I thanked my feet for their assistance in helping me get into my 70th year. I gave them a massage and red nail polish. If I look down and don’t immediately recognize these brightly bedeckled toes, I take a minute to acknowledge in them the beauty of life, here and now, in this world, in this body.
Upon reflection, I seem to remember that I got my ears pieced right after my 50th year began. Fiftieth year. Seventieth year. On this schedule, my next life crisis will be sometime in the beginning of my 90th year. Hmmm. . . . .
© 2008 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, Christian Feminism Today, volume 32, number 2, Summer (July-September) 2008