Musings from United Airlines, Flight 1978, Seat 1A By Julia E. Hubbel
Photo by KC Welch on Unsplash
First Class isn’t my thing, unless United upgrades me. They did, but only on the one hour or so flight from San Francisco, which took off at 6:35 last night, to Eugene. I’m always grateful for a free upgrade, albeit parts of me would prefer an upgrade on my aging and tired body, which feels a lot better this morning than last night as I watched a red sun sink out over the Pacific.
I was returning from five magnificent weeks in Africa after a long hiatus, Covid-imposed, from what I do for love and for a living. As we swept north, the brilliant sun slowly settled into a bank of clouds, much the same way that the rising sun looks from your perch at Gilman’s Point at 5:30 am as you climb to the summit of the great Kilimanjaro.
One is a great beginning, one is the beginning of an ending.
At 68, I am facing the autumn of a life. The first snows started landing on my hair a long time ago, kept at bay by colors. When I return after a long trip the snows have taken over more acreage, just as the wrinkle patterns on my face have carved delicate new tributaries for when I sweat on my runs.
Time is moving. Below me, my beloved Pacific coastline slipped into darkness as the small diamond-like towns twinkled into view like a lengthy necklace. No matter what any of us does, we reach a point where we realize that there is no more negotiating with age as “just a number,” a claim which gets increasingly silly as you get closer to your inevitable due date. Mine, given my genetic heritage and propensity for decent food and lots of movement, is likely still a long way off barring extreme accident or just crap luck (both of which are highly likely, given my sporting habits).
We can’t know. What I do know is that trying to fool myself or anyone else that there are acres and acres of open savannah between myself and a similar sunset is not just silly, it’s ridiculous.
This week I penned a story using an article from CorkscrewAnnie, wherein she, at 64, is giving far more careful and dedicated thought to the notion of disappearing time. This trip, which was full of unbridled beauty, glory and life-affirming brand-new starts even as I approach my final year of my sixties, really and truly underscored how important it is that we face the time we have left with great respect for the limited resource that it truly is.
I am well aware that Dear Reader likely tires of my regular exhortations to take care of our bodies, my rejoinders about eating well and moving much, and loving even more. However.
Even as I returned from this trip tired, still layered with a stubborn film of red African dust which last night turned my bathtub water to rust, I am embracing the brilliant red sunset which marks the beginning of my final decades. I couldn’t be happier or more excited.
I’ve found potentials for new work and partnerships, new places to explore. I returned last night utterly renewed with the kind of intense joy that only being in your element can offer. While the list of to-dos overwhelms, I am more so overwhelmed by what is ahead of me. Not a slow dip into nothingness, decreptitude and the inevitable rocking chair.
Mine is more of a rocket chair, if you will, but that’s just me. The way I like to move through life is different from yours and neither is better.
For the last five weeks I’ve shut down headlines and the bright headlamps of bitter ugliness to trade for the sight of disappearing animals, distant dust clouds heralding running wildebeest, and bachelor cheetah scanning the dawn horizon for breakfast. This is not for everyone. Nor should you hear that I am flaying you for not being Ms. Uber-adventure. I’ve ridden fine horses on the storied hills of N’gong, made famous by Karen Blixen, and hiked cliffs so dangerous that a single slip would have brought my thinning strip of a life story to a sudden end. That is my choice alone, how I fill my remaining years after decades of eating disorders carved out a massive canoe in my middle life.
That I am even still alive is remarkable, which is only one reason I do my damnedest to fill that life with more life, life that speaks to my greatest passions.
Such things remind me of why I am here, and how much there is to love, appreciate, value, celebrate and engage in, rather than the increasingly ugly stew of resentment and self-righteous indignation that marks so much of our online presence.
I opened my front door to a house I didn’t recognize as my own even after a year. I’ve no idea who lives here, such a lovely place. That is, in effect, the whole question, isn’t it? I can’t recall where the hell I put my Daytimer, which I hid so well that I sure can’t find it. I can’t recall where I put the key to my safety box, where I stored all my financial records, so utter and complete was my removal from daily life. I will likely spend half the day trying to find it because I can’t even go to the grocery store with out it. That’s just funny.
That’s the whole point. Such trips are, and continue to be, as much a reminder that there is far more life outside my door than what I cobble out within these walls, even if by doing so my income gets sliced in half because I am out living instead of sitting here at my desk pounding out more articles for money.
I must work for the funds to be able to do what I do, for part of the deal with my clients is that I have to pay for a portion of my travel. As I watch the inexorable sinking of the bright sun that is my life I am vividly reminded that the chasing of the funds isn’t the point.
It’s the chasing of the fun, as uniquely defined by you and me.
Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash
My legs are sore as hell from a four-hour horse ride and after endless hours in bad seats, my neck is pissed at me. Such things are part of the story. They are fixable. What isn’t fixable is what we might carry in our buckets, feeling as though life is passing us by, or that we are owed somehow for having shown up and given the world our august presence.
Where’s the beef? is our beef.
Our beef is only with ourselves, and whether or not you and I feel we are worth the effort it takes to be fully in life.
The eastern sky is lightening, as the last of September dawns. When I left it was still full summer here. The bird feeders have been maintained and their water cleaned, and the summer’s drought only took a few new bushes. I have a community which minds my home so that I can mind my life.
We love to bandy about the term mindfulness without the slightest clue as to what it really means. When I take these long trips, I am given that gift. Being drawn swiftly into the moment as I face a massive hippo negotiate the same path I am walking to my safari tent, but she’s got the right of way. Watching a pair of sister lionesses chew the neck of a down Cape buffalo as clouds of flies rise and fall with their efforts.
Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash
These things are what fill me with wonder, gratitude and immense humility. For you it might be the sight of a newborn grandchild. It makes no difference whatsoever.
What I want so passionately for you, which I work on to the best of my ability, is that as you and I face the heartbreakingly lovely waning years of our lives, that they are filled with gusto and energy, fueled by a love of life itself. We can’t do that if we are torn asunder by other’s cares, cares we didn’t create, cares that are manufactured for us to carry when they are not our own.
That doesn’t mean don’t be aware of what is important in the world. It does mean don’t be so whipsawed by it that you aren’t living your own life. I’m not interested in the headlines, for I am too busy trying to put headlines on the last years I have left to me.
What are our own are the minutes of our lives. The lives we touch, and those we love. How we fill those minutes, how we cradle the opportunity to be in life while we still have it.
Autumn is my favorite time of year. The older I get the more meaning it has for me, as the Japanese Maple leaves turn brilliant red, fall, and fall weaves its magic on my second season in Oregon.
I am home, and already I am planning a return trip in May. That will be my final year beginning with a six. I dunno about you, but with any luck, my sundown years will be amazing. I hope yours are too.