Sarah Calvert

"I am an old woman, named after my mother..." John Prine

The miracle of reading glasses. Note that the book is now close to my face.

“I am an old woman, named after my [grand]mother, my father is another child that’s grown old.” 

I heard Bonnie Raitt on CBC radio last week in an interview and they played a clip of the John Prine tune she made famous. I smiled. I cried. Partly because the rawness and authenticity of her voice often brings me to tears, but mostly because I felt that the lyrics were ridiculously accurate for me. Dad is still such a young-hearted old dude, I was named after my great-grandmother, Sarah. And yes, lately, I’m feeling like an old woman.

Two weeks ago, I turned 44. How did that happen? Forty-fu*#ing-four? I spent the night with dear friends here at the cabin, enjoying sangria, tapas and tunes and had a ball; there were five of us remaining women at 2am still dancing to Michael Jackson and eating gluten-free chocolate birthday cake. One of my sisters-from-another-mister, Mary came from Antigua, via Kelowna and Christina Lake, which was such a gift. I missed my true sister Michelle, but we played a few tunes by The Cure and The Smiths to bring her spirit onto the dance floor. That night I truly felt free, young and immortal. Over the next few days, not so much.

I headed to a beautiful backcountry lodge the day after my party for a few nights to sit in ceremony with kindred spirits, observing some Andean traditions and being together for the eclipse. It was amazing, and also full of some serious reflections. As we sat in circle, I had a really hard time hearing people speak; and so I got my hearing aid from my purse, which annoyingly had stopped working. Instead of clarity and amplification, a voice (somewhat akin to Siri’s) repeated, “Service”, which was followed by a whooshing sound, not unlike putting your ear close to a conch shell. This continued for the weekend, and I found myself increasingly annoyed and aggravated that I was missing what people were saying. This lead to feeling insular and not able to be really present. I wondered if my whole issue of FOMO (fear of missing out) is actually related partially to my hearing impairment. I’m literally missing what people are communicating. I’m missing a lot of conversation. I’m missing out on hearing lyrics of songs sometimes. For the past 8 years, since I had an ear surgery that went wrong, I’ve had tinnitus in my left ear, which is like a constant high pitched shrill whistling sound. That’s the ear that has the hearing aid. Now, the right ear has the constant whooshing sound of the conch that I think is a result of surfing this winter. So there is a symphony of sound inside my head at all times, that tends to drown out conversations, dialogue during movies, and most annoyingly: music. 

I had an epiphany that weekend whereby I think a huge fear for me is that I will lose my hearing completely. I wonder if it is coincidence that in grade four for public speaking I opted to give a speech about Beethoven. The thought of not being able to hear music, or make music scares the b-Jesus out of me. It’s something I’ve been sitting with the past couple of weeks. 

 

The week before my birthday I bought myself a gift. Not a facial or a pedicure, or a new CD, but reading glasses, so I can read the words printed on any CD I might buy in the future. During the last bit of time in Costa Rica I noticed at night before going to bed during my short reading sessions, the words were blurry. At first I thought it must be remnants of the wine I’d had at dinner. Then the following night when no wine was consumed, I deduced it had to be the humidity. When I returned to BC where the whole province is on fire I thought it must be the smoke. Didn’t they write a song about smoke getting in your eyes, making reading blurry? Eventually the smoke cleared here in BC, and there was no humidity, and still I was having issues. Luckily I have long arms, so I could move the book away and read. Finally, I gave in and bought a pair of reading specs at the Dollar Store and could read without my arms being fatigued. A miracle. 

I also bought myself walking poles for guiding my hikes with Wild Women, due to the realization last year that my knees have the onset of arthritis. I suppose after 30 years of intense skiing and hiking, this is pretty normal. As is the loss of sight, and in my case, after 44 years of chronic ear infections, hearing loss. Dad has serious arthritis and I’m determined to take care of this body as best I can. I remember being with Dad in Hawaii a couple of years ago and he was trying to bend over in the parking lot to tie up his shoes, but was having issues. “This getting old is for the birds!” he grumbled, as I bent down to help him. That phrase kinda stayed with me. 

Over the weekend I was sailing in a regatta with my good buddy Hal, who also has sight issues and arthritis. However, he’s one of the most happy-go-lucky dudes I know, and he was not into having a pity party for himself. Instead, he celebrated the full life he’s had so far; traveling the world, skiing chin-deep powder in the 70s and 80s at Whitewater, seeing beauty in the morning sun streaming in his bedroom window. It kind of woke me up and got me out of my pity-party I was about to throw. 

There’s a store in Toronto that’s called, “The Anti-Aging Store”, and every time I see it, I feel like throwing a brick through the window. “You can’t defy aging!” I want to scream. No, we can’t defy it, but we can do it in a graceful manner. I’m getting more and more comfy with the idea of getting old. I’ve done a lot and seen a lot in four decades. I’ve been more that blessed and privileged in this 44 years to have lived in a free and democratic country, growing up without fear. The freedom of going to Shoreview Park in safety when I was twelve, and getting drunk for the first time, wobbling home to my safe home. The gift of music lessons (piano and violin) that began when I was 7, allowing me to cultivate my talents. The music I’ve heard over the years, beginning with The Rolling Stones and the Beatles when I was three, to last week listening to Chopin’s Nocturnes. The movies, plays and musicals I’ve seen both on stage and film. The countless sunrises and sunsets from the shores of Beausoleil Island to Hawaii. The sounds of mantra filling the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, to the lone squirrel who has a frantic argument with himself every morning outside my bedroom window here in Nelson. I’ve heard a lot, and I’ve seen a lot. I will continue to hear more and see more of this big beautiful world. I may not sleep in airports for layovers anymore because I’m just “too old for that shit” (another key phrase of Dad’s), but I will continue to travel. I’ll continue to play music and sing, while I still can, and hope that you’ll continue to come along on the journey. 

Much love and light,

Sarah

Question for You: How do you accept the challenges of getting older? What are some gifts with the process of aging?

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