We’re sitting at home watching Queer Eye on Netflix (full disclosure: I’m only sort of watching because I am doing on some online shopping with my eyes) and someone on the show mentions there’s a difference between existing and living as you get older. This caught my attention. It is easy as you age to fall into habits and get into patterns that don’t leave much room for new experiences and personal growth. After all, you’ve been around 5, 6, 7 decades and you’ve got a history. People hold you accountable to that history. You’ve been defined, and being thus defined you settle into place like gum stuck under a table. You are stuck, and you exist in the well-worn grooves.
I’m going to be 54 in May. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years in August, and later that month our youngest will begin college. This is when the gum can get stuck to the wall. I know a lot of people my age and older (and even younger) who are stuck. There is nothing new in their lives. There is no freshness, no growth. They are existing.
I don’t want that for my life, but I know that since March 2020 that is what I have been doing. I have been simply existing. I’ve been lazy about self-care and home care. I have been going through the motions. And, yes. There has been a lot of change, stress, anxiety, and adjustment these past two years just trying to negotiate our Covid-19 world, and I have to give myself a little grace for that. But I am ready to move beyond this stagnation and start living again. I’m ready to carve out a place to care for myself and not self-soothe by checking out. I’m ready to accept myself where I am at and move forward and live again because time isn’t slowing down, Covid isn’t going away, and the longer I stay stuck the more difficult it will be to pry myself loose.
If you did a self check in right now, where are you? Are you living or are you existing?
“May you live all the days of your life.” ~Jonathan Swift
I love this quote. It’s so simple yet eloquent and profound. I mean, every day that you’re alive, you could argue that you’re living. But are you truly living? What does it mean to live versus to be alive? There have been plenty of days in my life when I’ve gone through the motions. I existed. And I was alive in only the most basic sense. I wasn’t living fully, deliberately, or honestly. Living honestly lies in experiencing the senses, feeling your emotions, promoting your consciousness. It lies in the awareness of the present moment and in appreciation for it. It lies in a daily choice to be open, enthusiastic, and mindful.
A few weeks ago, we were buried under February snow. It was cold. I spent most of the month of February this year as I do every year…holed up in my bed under blankets, sipping tea, binge watching shows on Netflix, scarcely moving from my spot, trying to convince myself I was not depressed. February is my annual, 28-day hibernation. One day, though, we had a lovely respite from overcast skies. The snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared the way for swaths of blue, and something called to me to live.
It was 10 degrees when I left my house, bundled in my ski gear, wearing snowshoes, and hauling additional gear. I had no problem coaxing the dog who had been housebound with me out onto the open space for an expedition. Her enthusiasm and joy kept me moving on each time I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and question my sanity. I was alone and, with no one to challenge me, this walk that would normally take me 15 minutes on a summer day took me close to 25. I was in no hurry. I had no plans other than this one.
When I reached the first hill, I kicked off my Crescent Moon snowshoes and began climbing. Against all logic and better judgment, I’d hauled my son’s bright yellow Zipfy sled out there with me, fully intent on some perpetrating some childlike behavior. You see, the day before school had been cancelled due to snow, and I had watched longingly from my kitchen window as some neighborhood children climbed that normally silent hill and put their mark upon the pristine landscape. My sons sled a lot in our neighborhood during snow season, nearly every afternoon when the weather allows it, but I have never joined them. I’m the mom. I have responsibilities. They would think it was too weird. And I am getting on in years and might break some bones, right?
Upon reaching the top of the hill, I threw the sled down and climbed on. My dog was poised in front of me. She’s a border collie. She loves to herd things. She planned on herding me all the way down the hill. When I finally summoned the nerve, I inched forward with my feet and began sliding down that very steep hill. If it felt steep on the climb up, it felt steeper on the ride down. The dog bounded in and out of my path as I careened down the slope picking up speed. Before I realized it, I had neared the bottom of the hill and noticed what I had not seen before. Those little stinkers had built a ramp. I hit it at full velocity, whooshed into the air, and dropped some obscenities as the sled and I collided with the ground with enough force that I wondered if my neighbor felt the tremor in her home. My face was covered in snow. I felt snow down my shirt. I surrendered into the earth and laughed at the absurdity of a nearly 47-year-old woman collapsed by herself on a deserted sledding hill at noon on a Friday. What kind of crazy woman does that?
I stayed on that hill for about a half an hour longer, hiking up repeatedly so I could retrace the path the children had carved out for me as well as fashion a few lanes of my own. The dog challenged my efforts, lunging at me sporadically while I lurched and swayed my way down the hill in an attempt to avoid running her over. Each time I wiped out. Each run found me increasingly covered in snow. When I’d had enough, I sat and began petting the dog, noticing the chunks of snow in my soaking wet hair, breathing steadily and consciously, feeling gratitude for the time, energy, health, and means to spend an hour of my day outdoors, frivolously free from the mundane.
Seeing that quote today reminded me of my sledding adventure. We adults don’t indulge in living often enough. Swallowed by routine and obligation, we stagnate. We place responsibility over fun, whimsy, and novelty. To make this earthly journey worthwhile, though, we need to remember to let go on occasion. Joy is not just for children and border collies. We need to have our own sledding days, to bear witness to the beauty of nature, to smell the moisture in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the snow down our shirt, to taste the blood from our lip when we bite it on a hard landing, and to laugh out loud at ourselves. That is living.