Call Yourself Sweetheart
I don’t hate my sagging neck.
I’ve studied with too many wise Buddhist teachers to be angry at the body that’s taken me on this exciting, bewildering ride.
But it’s definitely aging.
It’s slowing down and aching and growing odd little barnacles all over the place.
I’m drying up like a desert.
Still, I try to love all 68 inches of myself.
(I’m shrinking; it used to be 69 inches.)
In fact, I talk to myself more lovingly than I ever have, in the same gentle manner I once heard the wonderful Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein address herself while I was on a silent meditation retreat with her, hoping to cultivate loving-kindness.
One of the main principles of loving-kindness is that you must be kind and loving to yourself before you can access those feelings for other people.
So I’m trying.
I want to be like Sylvia – calm, happy, and no longer demonizing myself for everything I’ve ever done wrong, or foolishly, or while trapped in a trance of guilt, fear and anger.
Although I believe her to be a perfect being, Sylvia would be the first one to laugh at the absurdity of that notion – that perfection and enlightenment are just around the corner if we attend enough meditation retreats. Perfection is not my goal; living with imperfection is.
Still, as I sat in the back of a large hall ten years ago, facing a huge golden Buddha, it felt like Sylvia was beaming serenity straight into my racing bloodstream. She turned everyday stories about her life into concise lessons.
I try to do the same now.
I turned 66 this year, and it’s about time that I stop beating myself up.
“Good Morning Sweetheart!” I try to remember to say to myself every single day.
Because that’s how Sylvia addressed herself in the stories she told while we were on retreat. “I sat back in my airplane seat and thought Sweetheart, look at things this way,” she’d say.
Or “Sweetheart,” I thought, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I’ve always been very hard on myself.
I used to call myself things like “You stupid idiot.”
Because I felt weak and frightened and lonely and messed up.
Now I would never use those words to describe myself.
I feel grateful.
I’m happy for all the little markers on my body – inside and out – that remind me of how far I’ve come. I laugh when I’m targeted on social media with ads for age spots and belly fat. Is there a hidden camera on me?
“Don’t worry,” I want to tell anyone out there who’s wary about getting older.
Aging is a privilege.
My father died at sixty, so I’m thrilled to be sixty-six.
As a woman of a certain age, I often feel invisible to the rest of the world, but that can feel liberating.
Sometimes it actually makes me laugh.
Last winter, I was minding my own business up on Martha’s Vineyard, a place where it’s very easy to do that, especially in the winter, when it’s pretty deserted where we live, in the middle of the woods.
I’d driven to my favorite farm stand, a funky little place off of a scenic country road, across the street from some pretty cows.
I’d parked my car and walked into the small shed where I intended to buy some garlic and cheese. The place operates on the honor system, so you just write down what you’ve bought on a pad of paper, and slip the money into an old coffee can.
While I was fumbling around in my purse looking for change, a guy about my age, maybe a little older, walked into the shed, didn’t bother to say hello (remember, I’m invisible) looked around for something and then walked out the door.
I paid for my purchases, then put my garlic and cheese in one hand and went to open the door to the shed.
Which was locked.
I shook the handle a few times, but nothing budged. I checked to see if there was a lock I could turn, but there wasn’t.
So I froze.
There was no heating in the shed, but I had my coat on.
I started to feel a little panicky, but I had my purse with me, which meant I also had some Klonopin. (I don’t leave home without it.)
Still, it was the middle of February, and I was locked in a shed on a pretty deserted farm, on a fairly deserted island, with a phone in my pocket but very limited cell service.
In other words, I was truly invisible to the world.
But what happened was wonderful.
I started to laugh.
I glanced at the door and realized I could poke a hole through one of its glass panes and try turning the doorknob from outside the shed.
But I didn’t want to make a bloody mess.
So I laughed some more.
And then my phone buzzed.
“I’m going for a bike ride,” my husband texted me.
“No you’re not!!!” I texted back.
I waited to see if the text would go through.
I was saved!
By my handsome prince of a husband, who was back at our house, oblivious to my predicament.
“I’m locked in the shed at the farm!!!” I texted. “So don’t go anywhere! You might have to come get me out!”
Once again, I started laughing.
I wasn’t totally invisible!
There was one man on the planet who cared whether I went out to buy garlic and never came home again!
(Actually there were two others – our sweet sons – but they were back in New York City.)
Suddenly, I saw a spot of color moving outside the shed.
Two men, one in a red shirt, were walking through the dreary grey winter landscape. I banged on the window of the shed and when they turned around I recognized the owner of the farm. Next to him – I presumed – was the shmendrick who’d locked me in the shed and left me to die.
As they walked toward me, I texted Jimmy back: “Never mind! Somebody’s coming and they’ll let me out…I hope!!!”
I smiled awkwardly at the farmer as he bent down and fiddled with a simple lock that had been turned (despite a sign that read DO NOT LOCK) and then shimmied open the door.
“Thank you!!!” I blurted out. “Thank you!!!”
The men didn’t seem phased by my near-death experience.
So I resisted the urge to throw my arms around the farmer and tried to shuffle out the door with some dignity.
I did scowl at the scrawny old guy who’d locked me in the shed.
I’m clearly not an enlightened being full of compassion for others at all times.
But it turns out that I do have compassion for myself.
I’m a woman of a certain age, invisible to a lot of the world, with a sense of humor and a desire to find joy wherever I can.
“Sweetheart,” I said. as I hobbled back to my freezing car and sank into the driver’s seat, “Let’s go home and make some hot chocolate!”