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Tolstoy's Words To Live By

Tolstoy's Words To Live By

Sequel to A Calendar of Wisdom
by Leo Tolstoy
translated by Peter Sekirin
edited by Alan Twigg
tagged : meditations
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30-Day Meditation Challenge

30-Day Meditation Challenge

Exercises, Resources, and Journaling Prompts for a Better Life
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The Long View

The Long View

An Elderwoman's Book of Wisdom
also available: eBook
tagged : aging, meditations
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September 6: A Pain in the Neck


My physiotherapist is making me stand up straight. At five feet nine inches tall, I learned early on to stoop for the sake of many of the guys I danced with in high school. Later, as a writer, I hunched intently into my stories. That’s when I wasn’t tucking my phone between my neck and my ear, so I could write and turn pages while I interviewed someone. I still read a lot, bent over a book.


Lately I am hearing a weird sound, like a drum roll, when I turn my head. Rattle rattle rattle. And it hurts. So now, at my late age, I am lifting weights and doing lunges, and keeping my head lifted up like a turtle coming out of its shell. And trying to put my shoulder blades in my back pockets.


I am walking tall and straight like the beautiful Luo women I stayed with once in Kenya, who carried large containers of water on their heads for kilometres and had no need of physiotherapy.


September 7: Advice, Re-Thought


I sent this message to all my children today. I know, elders really should wait until advice is solicited. But I felt this fell under the rubric of elder privilege. Just this once.


Memo from mother to all of you. Maintain core strength. And do not slouch as I have done my whole life, to my (now) deep regret!!


It’s all right to distribute advice if it arises out of very painful experience. And it is never too late (or too early) to walk tall.


September 8: Poem


One of my sons gave me earrings a long time ago, when he was little. I was already a little bent over from my work.  


Diamond Earrings


My middle son
gave me diamond earrings
for Christmas.
Not real ones — his budget
doesn’t stretch to that —
just little chips of crystal
that glow in my ears
  like diamonds.


My middle son
hasn’t noticed
I wear jeans
all the time.
That I’m tall,
and awkward,
and stooped a little
from too much fussing over


He thinks I should wear diamonds.
So I do.


September 9: Homes and Houses


When I was in grade nine French class, we read Le Notaire du Havre, by Georges Duhamel. It gave me a glimpse of a different culture. In the story, the civil servant in question was raising his family in an apartment building. I found this extremely strange. Before you laugh, consider that I was living in a very small town. There were no apartment buildings.


But our twelve-year-old selves stay with us. I was shocked, later, into an appreciation of life in high-density downtown Toronto, where I went to university. But my image of “home” as a detached, single-family dwelling never budged. Le notaire remained a strange, pitiable, European creature forced to live away from the ground with no lawn of his own.


Until our little grandson moved into a condo in downtown Montreal, where he delighted in fountains and city parks and massive conference centres. One cold Sunday we spent a whole enchanted morning exploring the city’s deserted underground, a marvel of elegant brickwork and art installations, sky-lit restaurants, and more fountains.


My image of the good life, created in childhood, began to crack and break open. Just in time. Now we are discovering the terrible trap of wide-open suburban life for elders, who must eventually give up driving their cars and discover they cannot no longer shop for groceries or get to the library.


Just in time, I have given up the lawn.


September 10: A Dream of Transformation: Fire


When change is taking place within, dreams point it out. Change can be frightening, and the dream reassures us. One agent of transformation we are all familiar with is fire. That symbol appears in this dream, which arrived just over a year after my retirement.


I dreamed about a house Jim bought and to which he was building an addition. Although I was uneasy, I said nothing. Then there were lots of people in the house; it seemed to be a long apartment building with a huge inner courtyard, with flowers and a curving long walkway with paving stones, very pretty. The whole thing was just one storey.


Then someone came with a delivery. He left a package, but he also started throwing clothes around, and they began to burn. There were small fires inside and outside.


Someone called the fire department but it took awhile for it to arrive. A very old battered truck came eventually. It drove past and I wondered how we would call it back, but it turned and arrived at the house. Firemen began to put water on the fires, but only on the outside fires.


A large crowd came and toasted marshmallows. Meantime, a man started setting the house next door on fire. Nobody seemed worried about anything.


Apparently Donna-as-wife (the “house that Jim bought”) has only “one story.” A new narrative of my existence needs to be created. I do have a “very pretty” inner life. Perhaps that makes me unwilling to embark on necessary change.


So the agent of change (the delivery man) arrives and begins dismantling my earlier roles (“throwing clothes around” which begin to “burn.”) I seem to have found some emotional heat. Perhaps some passion – for justice, for writing, for beauty – is at last beginning to heat up. Perhaps I have been a teeny bit bored, but “uneasy” about taking on something fresh.


The relaxed way my dream-ego regards these fires – the truck doesn’t hurry, then it goes past, and finally people start roasting marshmallows, for heaven’s sake – would indicate that the fires are not unwelcome. (“Nobody seemed worried.”)


Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot points out in The Third Chapter that this elder time is meant “to bring the pieces together and make ourselves whole…” and it is “more difficult and demanding than the learning we have experienced at earlier stages in our lives…”


It is time, this dream seems to be saying. Get on with life.

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