Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.
~ Franz Kafka
Let me tell you about my friend Naomi Wingfield. I met her in her early 90s when her second husband of 30 years was very ill. She took her one morning of weekly respite to come to our writing group. We had to work hard to remember what she was going through because she was so interested in what was happening to each one of us and expressed such joy in little things.
Deep connections have been forged in our group over the years, as we share our personal thoughts by reading aloud the results of fast writing exercises. Naomi thrills us repeatedly when she reads (or more recently has someone read for her due to macular degeneration). She might write about looking at a flower nearly a century ago while lying on the ground under the Prairie sky, about the pain of watching a loved one fade toward death, or about anticipating the birth of her first great-grandchild. We have absorbed so much for our own aging from her matter-of-fact manner of naming the losses of age and accepting them just as naturally as the happy and sad events of earlier stages of life.
Now at 98, twice-widowed, she has lost much of her hearing, vision, and mobility and resides in assisted living near her daughter, but far from her sister and friends. When members of our group (35 years younger) connect with her now, she is mostly the same person — keeping track of what’s happening in our lives and finding something in which to rejoice. She continues to ask our opinion of a poem stirring in her mind.
Approaching the century mark and having lost so many family and friends, Naomi contemplates death and dying. She tells us that heaven would be “a rushing river/on my way to God” and that “Loving, the very best/goes on and on/past shadows, past Death.”
In grief, she realizes that forgetting can be too great a loss: “If memories are fading blooms/I welcome pain to keep them fresh.”
Life review is a central ingredient of the spiritual work of old age. Taking advantage of the reflection propelled by frequent writing, she has been harvesting memories through all seasons. Recording memories within poems has become her passionate legacy. It has also supported her search for spiritual wholeness, even while relinquishing roles and letting go of possessions and home. See Naomi’s recent publication in the Journal of Aging, Humanities, and the Arts: Wingfield, 2010, Youth is a flying horse.
A central purpose of old age is to seek the true self undiminished by losses of age through eyes enlivened with life experiences and to share this learning with others. Naomi’s primary tool for this work has been writing, a talent discovered only in late life. We can learn about spiritual eldering from Naomi. Her choice for joy opens unforeseen doors.
ANNOUNCING NEW ANTHOLOGY IN BOOK SERIES
Celebrating Poets Over 70 is a new anthology, edited by Marianne Vespry and Ellen Ryan and jointly published by the McMaster University Centre for Gerontological Studies and Tower Poetry Society in Hamilton, Ontario. The anthology and associated website highlight the fine poetry being written by individuals over 70. Some authors are poets published in books and magazines across their lifetime, while others have turned to poetry as a late life calling.
The call for poems yielded 1100+ poems submitted by 330 poets. The 200 poems in the anthology are organized into 12 themes: childhood, generations, history, love, encounters, aging, death, nature, reflection, dementia, memory, and words. Brief biographies reflect the diversity of backgrounds, interests, and experiences among these poets, mostly from Canada and the USA with Australia and the UK represented.
Celebrating Poets website features the anthology as well as additional poems selected from the original submissions. Orders for the anthology may be made with the Book Series order form . Discounts available for 10 copies or more.
It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you
and gives you a deeper understanding.
~ Vincent Van Gogh
To exist is to change,
to change is to mature,
to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.
~ Henri Bergson
Until next time,