My friend Connie, a retired executive, a Christian believer, a mother and grandmother, a considerate friend — a woman whose “lake cabin” is more elegant than any house I’ll ever own — is the last person I would expect to be dismissive or nonchalant.
But that is how I initially interpreted her answer when I asked how she had navigated the final year of her career, at an organization and in a job that were important to her. Whenever something bothered her, she said, when she felt slighted or overlooked, when she disagreed with a decision or a directive from her boss, she would shrug her shoulders and tell herself, Whatever.
The one-word toss-off — so unnatural to her, otherwise — gave Connie perspective, allowing her to see that she could not simultaneously step away and hang on, that she had given a year’s notice before retiring because she wanted to open the door for someone else. Someone different. Someone younger.
Whatever stays with me as I scan my sharp edges after 15 months of a frightening, constrictive pandemic. The principle applies not only to how I navigate the final years of my career but to aspects of life beyond work. Whatever is not: Fuck it! It’s not resentful or angry. It’s the Serenity Prayer, accepting all the slights and hurts, the aggravations and unexpected detours — “the things we cannot change.”
It is recognizing, as my husband says, that America already has too much contention, that I need not engage in every fight or always weigh in with my opinion. Sometimes, the silence can say more, at less cost.
Twice in one day recently I had to stop myself from firing back angrily over email (both times with men, whom I rarely allow to gain the upper hand) when the responses to an innocuous request or an open dialogue came across as condescension or mansplaining. One colleague declared it was “not my first rodeo” after I asked him to take notes in a conference session I could not attend (a reasonable request, in my view, given my interest in the topic). Another man gibed that I had become a “convert to Hinduism” after I described the eight limbs of yoga in a conversation about yoga bans in public schools and pointed out to him that, however unwittingly, Alabama and other conservative southern states may grasp the holistic nature of the practice better than most Western fitness enthusiasts.
Both times I stepped back, literally walked away from the computer, and then flipped my irritation like a rock I had stumbled over in the woods. What was beneath it? What resentment would crawl out? “Whatever,” I said aloud, giving myself a pause to reconsider and later to examine how my sensitivities about other aspects of these relationships were fueling such a strong reaction.
Sometimes I wonder whether the book I happen to pick up is the one I am meant to be reading. Ideas and awakenings will grab me, ones that seem to be precisely what I need to hear at this time, in this place.
So it was with The Weekend by Charlotte Wood, an appealingly easy read, recommended by a friend, after nearly four months of textbooks in my spring semester graduate class. The story of three women in their early 70s mourning the death of a friend in their longtime foursome, the book described the softening judgments and hard realities of aging, showcasing a demographic often rendered invisible and inspiring this Boomer to highlight passages in multiple colors on her digital reader:
- “Everybody hated old people now; it was acceptable, encouraged even, because of your paid-off mortgage and your free education and your ruination of the planet.”
- “You had your ostensible life, going about the physical world, and then you had your other real, inner life — the realm of expression, where the important understandings, the real living, took place.”
- “On these silent morning walks, her body was ageless, it had seen no degradation.”
- “The moon appeared now and then between sweeping clouds, and in those moments of cold light, Wendy saw this: my life has not been what I believed it to be.”
I recommended The Weekend to my older sister, thanked my friend David for suggesting it, put it on my list for the next installation of my Annual Book Club — and then was caught short by a dismissive review on Goodreads: “the author was too bored of her own boring book to write an ending for any of the boring characters.” Whatever! The book spoke to me, and that’s what counts.
The older I get, the more I see how the wisdom of age is inspired by the wisdom of animals. It is my dogs fleeing to tight, confined spaces when an early-morning thunderstorm warns them to seek shelter. Or the cat, years ago, that pressed itself into the far corners of a closet until it could recover from a fight — the cat we rescued because the owners had declawed it but then left it outdoors to fend for itself.
Like those animals, I seek quiet as I grow older. More yoga, more reading, more breathwork, more stillness. I instinctively retreat from the strivings and drama of my youth — the aspirations at work, the loud, noisy parties, the exhilarating but exhausting relationships. Energy diminishes as we age, and I conserve mine for what matters most. For whatever appeals to me now.