Plans Before Sunset: A Woman Who Says “Yes” to Life

I once met a famous man who said, “We are all in transit.” Just passing through. Best, then, to talk with someone who willingly provided her perspective on the lengthy journey.

As she approaches her 10th decade, this lovely individual offered more than her share of wise guidance just by describing her plans. They do need revision on occasion, don’t they?

Before you hear her voice, let me give you some background.

Catherine Pearlson (CP) was born to the generational expectation of taking your male spouse’s name when married. These days we might perceive it as an automatic first step toward removing one’s identity. Men in the business world trimmed off some more of her selfhood, despite her degree from one of the finest universities in the world. Remember, she lived in the real-life version of TV’s Mad Men moment.

Her dad died early, but CP benefited from a kind stepfather and a sparkling presence, as well as three qualities in equally short supply: resilience, boldness, and wit. She persisted and persists.

Losing friends and loved ones infiltrates any long life, but Ms. P. continued to say yes to the crazy journey each of us encounters, no matter how much time it took to reclaim herself. Her will and self-affirmation survive, despite more than one serious illness from which she rebounded.

Catherine has known the death of one spouse and divorce from another. Here is what she told me:

On Monday, I was at the Senior Center when I noticed a flyer on the wall:

Therapy for Healthy Seniors

It spoke to me.

My ex-husband passed away a few weeks ago, and it took me back to a dark time in my life. The feelings always lurked inside, ready to emerge. They returned me to the birth of my current name and the beginning of my best identity. The yin and the yang.

A few days later I met with the therapist. She radiated kindness as I recounted the familiar stories. The general outlines. She asked about my goals. Here’s what came up after I went home:

  • I want to make peace with myself before I die.
  • I want to accept the people who populate my life for who they are as they reveal themselves to me.
  • I want to spend my time doing things that reflect my vision of my best self. Pretty lofty targets. But I guess that’s what goals are, right?

This charming woman mentioned inventing her name. I asked her for details.

In the aftermath of my divorce from my second husband, I realized I wanted to choose a last name for myself.

If you had asked me at the time, I would have said the desire came from not wanting to go back to my maiden name and certainly not wanting to keep my married name.

Now, in hindsight, I know it primarily came out of a yearning for my own identity, no longer attaching myself only to the role of a wife or mother or my determination to do something creative in the world.

I chose Catherine Pearlson because it sounded like a writer’s name.

Here’s one unexpected thing I learned from doing this: when I told my children, my family, and my friends about my new name, not one of them questioned the decision.

They accepted the alteration straight away. My inner conviction came through to them. This was a significant boost to feeling right about the first step in my new identity.

Upon severance of the marriage, the judge said I could change my name for free as part of the divorce decree. I refused. I counted up my pennies and paid for the name change as an independent action.

My friendship with CP popped up in the last few years. She is a glowing delight, still learning, still finding a way forward even during a pandemic, and still writing, too. I hope her words speak to you as they did to me.

How many people do we meet who are beautiful inside and out, with a dash of wisdom, too?

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I have changed the name of “Catherine” to protect her identity. The first image is the Umm al-Fahm Skyline at Sunset by Moataz Egbaria. Next comes Crepuscular Ray Sunset – Telstra Tower, Canberra by Fir0002. Finally, Preparations for the Open-air Concert of the Dülmen Summer at Wiesmann Sports Cars, Dülmen North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (2018), by Dietmar Rabich. They were all sourced from Wikimedia Commons.org/

Lost and Found: A Different Way to Think About Your Life

656px-Lost

A very old question asks you whether you think of your glass as half-full or half-empty. But permit me to make a suggestion: think of your life in terms of what you’ve lost and what you’ve found over all the years you’ve spent on the planet.

Take all the victories and failures, the things you can do and the things you can’t anymore, the friendships you’ve lost and the ones you’ve gained and put them in a basket. Don’t forget to include what you’ve learned over the course of your life — learning in terms of knowledge found in books and the knowledge that only comes from experience. Add your greatest joys and your worst moments. Be sure to fill the bushel with physical skills and abilities too, talents you had once upon a time and all those you still possess, including the new ones.

If you do this, I’ll bet you find that your container includes some of the following:

  • That you are wiser than you used to be, in some small ways and maybe even a big way or two. Perhaps this is part of what is called Maturity.
  • That, especially as you approach mid-life, you are less easily rattled by some of the things that used to overwhelm you. To some extent, you’ve probably learned to cope or even mastered fears you thought you never could.
  • That you might not be as spry or as fast in a footrace, but that you care less about it than you did in your youth.
  • That you act more like the tortoise and less like the hare because you know (most of the time) that “slow and steady wins the race.” Or maybe just because you’re not quite as fast as you used to be and have figured out a strategy to deal with that, kind of like a baseball pitcher who loses his fastball and still wins by dint of craft, guile, and perhaps developing a new pitch.

Glass_half_full_kind_of_day

I’m sure, as you reach for things to put into the basket, that you will remember how much some of those that are gone mattered to you, and how some still do. But, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised to see that you’ve replaced a number of them, perhaps with people or activities or skills that compensate for many of those that have disappeared. Maybe not all, or, just maybe, just as much or more than what you’ve lost.

What we are talking here is about adaptation. Adapting to life and to aging. Grieving and moving on. Licking your wounds and coming back to find out what the universe still holds that is good for you. And that sometimes what is good for you is also good for others around you, in part because of the feeling your generosity gives you.

Not everyone can do this. If we’ve had too many losses, some of us don’t even go to the “Lost and Found” Department to find out whether what we value is there. Part of the problem is that no one told us that the “Lost and Found” Department of Life isn’t like the one in school or in a department store. In those places, if you are lucky, you find exactly what you lost — the thing itself.

No, life’s “Lost and Found” Department is different. It holds every one of the things you’ve lost and doesn’t usually give those exact items back, all precisely as we left them or as they left us. But if you go there and look hard enough, you just might find objects or capacities — people or experiences — as good as what you lost, a few better, a number worse. And if you travel there with the right attitude, you can find things that are priceless. One of those surprises is not actually a thing. It is the knowledge that it is often possible to adapt to those that are truly gone.

It’s a little like the way a heart breaks, a love is lost, and one finds that it heals or someone else enters your life or other people and activities compensate you. The “Lost and Found” Department of Life doesn’t work perfectly, of course. You must be willing to make the best of it. But, there is one thing that is essential if you are to give it and life a chance.

You have to go there and see what it contains. Without that, there is no finding what you’ve lost; or something new; or something better; or something that will do.

No guarantees, not even safety. But life is full of surprises, as I said. It might be time that you forget about looking at glasses half-empty or half-full, and look instead beyond what’s been lost and see what you can find in that new place, the yet to be discovered things in life’s “Lost and Found.”

Good luck to you. Good luck to us all.

This article was inspired by Frank Bruni’s February 1, 2014 New York Times essay on the subject of Peyton Manning and aging, called Maturity’s Victories.

The top image is the Lost Properties Office symbol at a railway station in Poland. The author is Mohylek. The second picture by Pete Unseth is called Glass Half Full. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.