Recently, I went to a talk by Hedda Bolgar, a 98 year old psychoanalyst who lives in California and is still actively practicing, seeing clients each week. She was supposed to discuss the psychology of aging, but instead, she stood at the podium and said, “I’m just going to talk to you about what it’s like to be really, really old.” She talked about being very comfortable, at this point in her life, with her limitations. A few times during the talk, she forgot what she was going to say. Rather than being embarrassed about it, she just acknowledged it and moved on.
As I listened to her talk, I thought about my grandmother and my Aunt Myra, the two reigning matriarchs of my family, both in their late 80’s but young compared to Hedda Bolgar. I remembered my Aunt Myra talking about going for a checkup with her doctor and asking, how am I doing? The doctor replied, “I don’t know. We have no data on how someone your age is supposed to be doing; you’re off the map!” Myra reported this conversation with a wonderful smile on her face, the same unrestrained smile I’ve seen on my grandmother so many times in recent years. My brother once remarked on how, these days, we have so many pictures of my grandmother smiling and laughing. It’s not a gentle, polite laugh either but one that seems to come from a real and deep sense of joy.
These days I find myself in a time of great transition, with many things that need to be juggled and many decisions facing me about how I’m going to live my life. I am most definitely not “off the map.” There are norms for women my age, things we’re supposed to do, expectations to fulfill. Sometimes it’s not always clear to me which are mine and which are imposed by other people. But today I’m wondering, can I choose to throw the map away? Can I find, at this age, that kind of freedom and joy?