Only a very few days, at a certain time of the year, in a certain kind of place, at a certain time of day, qualify for exalted Zip-a-dee-doo-dah status. Yesterday was one of “those” days.
Leaving the city of Kyoto for a break in the Let’s Play House routine, we drove (make that we were driven) on a single lane road, through small villages, one and a half hours north of the city, into the mountains and back in time. I’d made a reservation for an overnight stay at the highly recommended ryokan, Miyamasou. It is situated along a winding stream, a short distance from a 900 year old temple. When built, it housed Buddhist monks.
When guests arrive at a ryokan, they surrender themselves to the impeccable and attentive care of the staff. The only decisions required concern the time to eat and the time to bathe.
Miyamasou is renowned for its mountain based cuisine. This is not faddish, but a path that’s been followed in the mountains for millennia. They’ve just made high art out of the presentation and preparation of the ingredients. We were up to the task of eating and appreciating the exquisite food put before us.
I really did break into song in the morning of the first day in May. The day and the setting were perfection. Daffodils huddled together on the banks of the stream. The earth seemed to explode with the urgency of new life. Violets, ferns and mosses vied for space at the edge of the pathways, birdsong filled the clear mountain air, and the rushing stream provided constant background music to our ears.
Inspired by the loveliness of the day, and by books I’d been reading about courageous people deciding to walk ancient Japanese pilgrim routes , I took, what to most hikers would be, a “baby step.”
Before we paid the fee at entrance to the temple grounds, the wisened temple caretaker looked doubtful that my husband and I could do it. She tried to tell us several times how steep the climb was. Before we set off, she shouted, “Gambatte!” which means good luck. Walking sticks in hand, we slowly climbed up 430 vertiginous stone steps to the ancient wooden temple. We descended with aching thighs and weak knees, but otherwise intact!
Sorry, no photos are allowed of the temple. It’s a simple wooden structure on stilts, poised near the top of the mountain we’d climbed. Needless to say, my husband and I both felt quite pleased with ourselves once we’d made it intact to the bottom.
Returning to our ryokan, there was only time to say goodbye to our gracious hosts, before our taxi wound its way back to the city to resume life in our newly adopted city.
You know the overwhelmed feeling you can get when you have to master a new technological device? All of that paled on move in day in Kyoto when we were confronted with the latest array of Japanese home technology.
We screwed up royally and instantly as soon as someone rang our doorbell. Not knowing which button to push to allow someone in, Dan made a wrong guess and set off a very loud alarm that we could not cancel. Within minutes, a worried building superintendent was at our door probably prepared to put out a fire. I controlled my impulse to take his picture.
The person who had rung our bell delivered the first of several unexpected impressive gifts from the people who had done our renovation. Gift giving is taken seriously in this country.
Our new oven is truly a master of everything. If and when we are capable of differentiating the myriad of choices it allows, we will be able to use it as a microwave, steam oven, standard oven, baking oven with choice of which direction the heat shall come from, broiler, and last but not least, rising bread. Until that day arrives, we’ll probably be eating most meals out!
After several hours of instruction by our architect, our architect’s assistant, the carpenter, the contractor, and the contractor’s boss, it seems it was decided that we’d gone as far they could take us.
We all sat down in our new dining room and made small talk, exchanged gifts and drank tea together. In spite of the fact that we have less understanding than a toddler for the technology that surrounds us, we were thrilled with the quality of work done. All in just two months time. And all within budget!
Words most of us live by: “Better late than never.” Words that might not seem as relevant with the passage of time, “Better late than never.”
Recently, I’ve begun to notice that this saying seemed to be approaching its expiration date when justifying the undertaking of an ambitious or long term project. One needs a fairly long personal timeline to be able to casually say, “later.”
I became acutely aware of this newish attitude I’d unconsciously adopted, while in deep conversation with a friend. He straightforwardly asked me to consider what my ideal life would look like in ten years. At first, I thought he must be kidding.
My immediate smartass response was, “I’d be alive!”
My friend demanded more of me. “Fill that out,” he kindly and firmly suggested. Something told me it was in my best interest to play by his rules.
At first, my mind was a blank, but then I began to let my mind roam freely. Ok, if I can let go of the fact that I might not be around in ten years, then what? What would I be doing? Where would I be living?
As we got more deeply into filling out that void, a long hidden dream began to rise to the surface. My dream, if I permitted myself to imagine a long term future, would be to live part time in the country I have returned to repeatedly since the early 1980’s: JAPAN. I blurted out my answer, “I’d love to live part of the year in Japan.”
That declarative was followed immediately by the question, “Does that (idea) sound crazy?”
“No,” said my friend, who happens to live in Japan. He looked remarkably unsurprised by my revelation.. Could it have been he was expecting this? Even encouraging it?
To my surprise and delight, I was flooded with joy and excitement. I quickly warmed to my bold idea. Maybe it wasn’t crazy, after all! So as not to lose my newfound courage, I shared it with my husband within a few hours. To my amazement, no straitjacket came out from under the bed. He didn’t say NO! He didn’t even roll his eyes. He didn’t say yes either, but I knew immediately I had a chance.
And so began my new adventure.
“Too-lateness, I realized, has nothing to do with age. Too-lateness is potentially every moment. Or not, depending on the person and the moment. Perhaps there even comes a time when it’s no longer too late for anything. Perhaps, even, most times are too early for most things, and most of life has to go by before it’s time for almost anything and too late for almost nothing. Nothing to lose, the present moment to gain, the integration with long-delayed Now.”
― Russell Hoban, Turtle Diary
People like to talk about “Big Birthdays.” Many women like to be coy about Big Birthdays. In fact, women like to be coy about most things age- related. It’s expected of them. It never quite fit for me.
I never questioned revealing my age until I was about to turn sixty. But 60 was different. It was no longer a middle age number. In contemporary America, it marked the beginning of a downhill slide with all its accompanying negatives.
A few of the nasty shibboleths about aging that most U.S. women know by heart are: “Men won’t find you attractive anymore.” “Your face will be hidden by wrinkles and what’s worse, your complexion will turn pasty to match the color of your gray hair.” “You’re about to lose your waistline.” That would be the ultimate insult for me. My waist was a diminutive 22″ when I was 16. At 60, I was many inches away from that, but I still strongly and foolishly identified with a having small(ish) waist.
My family kept asking if I wanted a party. I kept refusing their offer, trying not to reveal my inner turmoil. I knew I’d be unhappy when January 15th came around and there was only my immediate family to celebrate with.
Counting myself as a feminist, I was uncomfortable with my attitude. I became conflicted, which in retrospect, was just what I needed to go through this rite of passage. I began to question myself and my opinions. Seriously.
One day, I found myself telling a younger, attractive male friend that I was about to have an important birthday . After a bit of light conversation, I finally blurted out the whole shocking truth.
The world did not come to an end! I was enormously relieved. Pleased with myself too.
Mere days before my birthday, I quickly ordered my own birthday cake and invited a few friends over to help me eat it. I bought a bad-ass t-shirt that made me brave.
Once I passed through that Gate of Truthiness, there was no going back. I regard women who still won’t tell their age with curiosity and sadness. Why hide?
By the time I was turning 70, I was “into it.” I held a big bash, inviting everyone who had ever been important in my life to come to my party. It was wonderful; a true celebration, if maybe, just a tiny bit excessive!
The only setting, in which I’m not aware of being the far oldest person, is in the waiting room of my pulmonologist’s office.
The reflection of myself seen in the glass door of our microwave or the window of a car, can cause me to gasp.
I cannot name one contemporary musical group since the 1980’s, the era I had teenagers living at home.
It’s best to pretend it’s never warm enough to get into a bathing suit, and most definitely never with witnesses.
Restaurants are almost always too loud for me to attempt or desire to carry on a conversation with anyone.
I realize that seemingly random acts of kindness towards me are motivated by the fact that I must look needy.
Time’s carousel is moving far too quickly, as if being controlled by a madman on speed.
Things I distinctly remember as having taken place 6 months ago, actually took place at least 18 months ago.
When I scroll down on an online site to find the year I was born, (1941) it seems as if the list will run out of years before it gets to my year of birth. Always a shock.
I’ve lost two inches in height and added two inches onto my waist. I’m losing aka(lost) my jaw.
ON THE OTHER HAND,
I laugh at myself more easily.
I don’t sweat the small stuff as easily as in my younger days.
I’ve successfully avoided using the expression “in my day.”
I see children as miraculous beings. I see childhood as an instant in time.
I take much less for granted. Much, much, less.
I no longer fear speaking in front of people.
I’m coming to understand that change is the ultimate reality.
The beauty of nature thrills me more than ever.