Those of us 60 years and older live with the sobering knowledge that sometimes the sky really does fall. There are plenty of Chicken Littles running around, frantic about a crisis at work or a broken automobile, but let’s be clear.
The very real challenges of everyday life have little in common with the profound, life-altering crises of lost loved ones, serious injury, severe illness, or betrayal. Daily trials may cause sleepless nights, but by our age, few of us have escaped being tasered by something huge that leaves us changed forever.
People react differently to crises. My husband has to stay busy – no sitting in the hospital chair holding a hand or drinking tea. He survives by doing what he thinks needs to be done, which involves everything from gassing up the car to repairing the screen door.
In reaction to her mother’s murder, a woman I know coped by eating ice cream and watching funny movies.
Like Forest Gump, some people start running, and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, some build a fantasy world to buffer the hurt. Some, having faced unimaginable tragedy, become tireless activists and advocates and work to help others confront or avoid the heartbreak that shattered their world.
Some cocoon themselves in the arms of friends. Some walk alone into the desert to feel the solitude and the burn of the sun. Some go to church and stay there.
What can possibly sustain us when every waking moment is consumed by the heat of physical or emotional pain, or by worry or regret? This seems to be a particularly relevant conversation for our 60-plus community. While tragedy can come at any time, the earth beneath our feet gets less firm as we age.
Most all of us will credit family and friends with helping to pull us through. But there’s a deep personal place only we can reach. It’s in that terrible cavern we must mix whatever elixir we can conjure to cover the wound.
When my world crashed, I was sustained by three things: prayer, poetry, and the garden. There’s nothing to fuel prayer like a crisis, and whether or not you’re religious or spiritually oriented, reaching upward and asking for whatever help might be available is a natural reaction.
But the solace of poetry might surprise you. Poetry may not turn out to be salve for your soul, but it has been for mine, so I encourage you to at least give it a try. For those seeking support, grace, and solace, I suggest starting with the poetry of the late and incomparable Mary Oliver.
For those who garden, the notion that it can save your life will be no surprise. No matter what the hurt or fear, being in the garden soothes.
Pulling weeds, humming, talking to the plants, looking at the clouds, listening to the birds, smelling the earth – it’s as though nature meditates through us and only requires that we show up and be still for a while.
The late poet May Sarton wrote beautifully of the comfort of the garden in her Journal of a Solitude:
Life-altering crises come in different packages, but all change us. When the sky falls and the earth convulses in seismic shifting, we must find some way to survive it and rebuild.
Surviving does not mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean things will ever be the same. But maybe, by sharing what has sustained us through our tragedy, we can help one another.
What event made the sky fall for you? How did you manage in the aftermath? What helped you cope with your new reality? Do you have a favorite poet where you seek solace? Let’s begin a discussion.