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I tell people I'm a hundred and ten, but I pass for a hundred and nine on a good day. Sometimes they don't even laugh!
The truth is, I admire Charles Eugster, the retired dentist, who, in his eighties, decided to lose twenty-five pounds, find a personal trainer, and take up competitive sprinting. He gave a wonderful, lively, inspiring TED talk when he was in his early nineties--and he died this past year at ninety-seven.
That's the kind of life I want. I don't care about the "competitive" part. I don't want to run better, faster , farther than anyone else, or paint better, or produce more outstanding pottery--or photographs, or collages, or publish more best-sellers, or earn a higher salary, or . . . . I just want my life to be and feel FULL--and meaningful.--and I think fullness and meaning happen in the present moment--in this day, week, month, year. It's the only time you can do anything about, really.
How was I, a first-generation college student, to know what a "proper" major was? When the registrar asked what I wanted to major in, I said, "LIFE. But it's not in the catalog. I want to 'teach life' at the college level, where students have a choice about whether to be there or not. I want to teach art, music,debate, discussion, drama, poetry, philosophy, psychology, history, science, fitness, healthiness--just about everything, really, except political science--because I don't think THAT's a science! EVERYBODY'S interested in life. Everybody CARES about living a life that feels positive, and meaningful. Everybody cares about being the person they most deeply ARE. It's just that SCHOOLS, and FAMILIES, and COMMUNITIES sometimes forget that! They start thinking about money, and power, status, and ego and image and things like that. I want to REMEMBER it--every day. How not to lose HOPE, and COURAGE, and INTEGRITY, and COMPASSION, how not to become discouraged, and CYNICAL --that's the issue."
Well, the dean--Dean Jones-- suggested that I major in Liberal Arts English. She said that was the broadest major she knew. "Stay out of the college of Education," she said. "They will try to tell you how to teach. Don't ever let anybody DO that. Use all those interests of yours to teach in YOUR way!"
"OKAY!" I said. "THANKS."
And so I did that. And I'm still doing it.
I tell people I have eyes like Monet--which, to a degree, I DO. In the last year of his life, I read, in the early 1920's, he had cataract surgery on only ONE of his eyes. This meant he saw two different ways at the same time. I had cataract surgery on both eyes, on the right, near-sighted eye, in 2004, and on the left far-sighted eye in 2014. In 2000, my right eye was attacked by the shingles virus, and I lost almost all my sight in that eye--the eye which earned a Ph. D., and taught Composition, Literature, and Creative Writing at the university level for 31 years. My left eye saw the horizon and a blur of trees and buildings for about 72 years. Neither eye sees print clearly. I can type, and write in longhand, because my mind remembers those things; I just often find it impossible to see what I and others have written. However, my left eye now sees EVERYTHING clearly at arm's length and beyond. This means that after 72 years of NOT seeing people's faces, I can now see the LIGHT in everyone's pupils. I can also distinguish one bird from another at my feeder. I can see individual flowers--and weeds, and rocks, and clouds, and trees, and branches. I can notice, colors everywhere, I can see the vegetables in my salads, the toothpaste on my toothbrush. The world, at arm's length and beyond is full of life, to me. It is a tremendous gift to receive, in one's seventies.