Every once in a while, she types a line or two that stops me in my tracks. In An Old Age Better Than I Expected she writes about her surprise at being alive and vibrant and spirited and vital as she works her way through her eighth decade. Leaving behind the shoulds, the expectations, the to do's of her younger years, she's free to explore and create and do what she wants when she wants.
And then, there was this:
I am done improving myself. Self-help be damned. I am what I am and so I shall remain.I started to laugh, wrote a comment on the post, and came right here to share my own thoughts on the subject.
Taking my place at the keyboard, I watch a woman lumbering as she slowly jogs down the street, I wonder if she's out there of her own volition, or if someone told her she could do/be/look better? She's not smiling. It looks like work. Two minutes behind her is a gym shorts and tank top wearing octogenarian. She's listing from side to side, the same way that I do when the arthritis in my hip has wedged itself into an uncomfortable spot. She's taking five or six slow, deliberate, careful steps at a time. She stops, swats the gnats, wipes the perspiration, and goes ten or fifteen feet more before halting, and wiping, and swatting once again. She does not look as if she is having a good time.
I struggle with this, myself. I like hiking and walking and strolling. I don't like rehab. Yet, I have to improve that part of myself if I want to recapture the pieces of my life which brought me joy. I want to be able to carry an infant, to trot beside a bike with training wheels, to keep up with the kids as they race to the ice cream store. I want to have a fluid gait lasting more than the length of a hallway. The only way to achieve that is through work.
I thought I was done with work.
Intersecting with bullets opened up all kinds of new avenues for self-improvement. First and foremost was the physical aspect. All else follows from there. I was used to mixing it up, doing yoga when weights bored me, bracketing my weeks with Pilates mat classes and hiking the mountains wherever I lived. My new situation demanded a new approach, but the basics were still there. I liked to exercise. The gym felt like home to me. I thought it wouldn't be a problem to get right back into the swing of things.
I was soon disabused of that notion. I was exhausted by the time I drove, parked and walked to the gym door. It took several attempts before I could make myself go inside. What used to come easily was suddenly unimaginable. I left and didn't return for many months. Instead, I reached out to those who had taught me before, and begged for help. It was the same, only different. I was doing Pilates, not for core strength alone, but to retrieve the self which was hiding inside a damaged body.
It is not self-improvement. It is getting back to basics... to my basics... to who I am. I am not trying to change anything. I am trying to find myself again. It's been an interesting journey.
Self help be damned! I've needed counseling and friendship and treatments and therapies. I have had lessons and lectures and moments of reflection. I have listened to healing tapes and read inspirational words. None of it has been in the service of improving myself. I've been looking for myself, instead.
The changes have been slow and sudden and unexpected and long awaited. The experiences have been new and commemorative and startling. I became more certain, more focused, more aware of my possibilities after I was shot. I became overtly grateful and thankful for my nice life, my family, my friends..... but overt was the only real change. I'm still the girl who can't believe that anyone would like her just for who she is, the one who thinks that her ideas are good, but someone has a better one, the person I've been since I can remember myself. More people are paying attention to me, I have a broader reach, but I am still the same.
I don't want to improve myself. I want to see where this self will go. This self and I have been through a lot over the last sixty-one years. I'm often too loud, too snarky, too impatient. I imagine that will only get worse, over time. The kids try to get me to calm down, to pay attention to the effect that my actions have on their psyche's, to do better. I find myself responding, more and more often, with a request to cease and desist with the Mom Improvement Campaign.
I've earned these wrinkles and these scars and this attitude. I y'am what I y'am. Get used to it.