I was thinking recently about some of the things I’ve lost as I’ve grown older. But since I’m basically an optimist, after a while I also began to consider the good things I’ve found. I decided to make a list and try to balance lost with found.
Lost: My beloved husband after 27 years of marriage. I miss him every day. There are so many things I wish I could tell him.
Found: Sole custody of the TV remote and of my own time.
Lost: The dog I adored, who died a few years ago when he was about 15. I loved him as if he were my last child—the one who would never leave home. Dogs are so much like humans. They understand our emotions and we understand theirs.
Found: The cat who’s now the center of my life. Before Velvet came to live with me, I thought a cat would be dull company, compared to a dog, but it’s not true. In the past I’ve always had cats in multiples, sometimes with a dog as well. An only cat is something else altogether. I’m all she’s got and she’s all I’ve got. It’s a very intense relationship. And where the dog kowtowed and tried hard to please me, she treats me as if we’re equal. She’s a completely alien creature, unpredictable and therefore fascinating.
Lost: To death, my parents, my brother and so many friends.
Found: A gut-level understanding of just how much my children and grandchildren mean to me, and how much I value and appreciate my close friends. Family and friendships are more important than career, romance or anything else. I didn’t always know that.
Lost: My ability to multitask. I used to spend my evenings reading the New York Times while watching television. I had no trouble keeping track of both. I can’t do that any longer.
Found: How satisfying it is to concentrate on one thing at a time and to succeed occasionally at living fully in the moment.
Lost: The occasional pleasure of making eye contact with a man I don’t know, or barely know, and realizing that he finds me interesting and attractive. For my part, I can still appreciate a good-looking man (I’m not dead yet). And the men who catch my eye are all ages. I’m not alone in that. A friend of mine, who’s also in her 80s, was driving her car when she spotted a middle-aged man jogging on the sidewalk. He was wearing shorts, and she was so busy appreciating his long, sinewy legs that she drove right up over the curb when she turned a corner.
Found: The freedom that comes when you just don’t much care what most people think of you. Including men.
Lost: My lifelong dream of publishing a mystery. Years ago, I actually wrote one, and my agent couldn’t find a publisher for it. It lives in a drawer in my desk.
Found: Writing that mystery was more fun than anything else I’ve ever done. The research (it was a historical mystery) and the writing took about a year and totally absorbed me. In fact, they were so much fun that I’d be willing to try again whether I ended up with a publishable book or not.
Lost: My inclination to daydream about the future, now that there isn’t nearly as much of it ahead of me. I used to spend a lot of time daydreaming.
Found: The time to dwell on memories instead. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of good ones that are fun to recall.
Lost: The sense that my future is almost limitless—or at least that death is so far off that there’s no point in thinking about it.
Found: Acceptance, mostly, that I haven’t much time left. That awareness feeds into so much of my thinking. When a pundit predicts some disaster that will probably happen by 2030 or 2050, I assume I won’t be around to experience it, and that’s a relief, though I worry about my kids and grandkids. At 83, I know I could be gone a year from now. A week from now. Tomorrow. But there’s not much I can do about that, so there’s no point in thinking about it.
Found: A new equanimity. Lots of things happen and instead of getting upset, I recall that I’ve been through similar experiences before and survived. Things are rarely as bad as we expect them to be.
Lost: That sense of equanimity when it comes to politics, which are strange and scary these days. No one has been through anything like this before.
Never lost: The feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do.
Found: A suspicion that slow living—or slower living—could actually be a very enjoyable thing.
Flora Davis has written scores of magazine articles and is the author of five nonfiction books, including the award-winning Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960 (1991, 1999). She currently lives in a retirement community and continues to work as a writer.