Aging Gracefully

When I was a child, I was ballet mad, like many little girls.  We lived in a small town in eastern Kansas, and now and again famous troups would come to Kansas City and my dad would take me on the train to watch them.  Of all the dancers I saw, the one who most enraptured me was Alicia Alonso.  I never would have guessed when I saw her move so weightlessly across the stage that she was nearly blind, that she had spent a year in bed unable to move in hopes of correcting her vision–dancing only in her mind, as she put it, while her husband, also a dancer, sat next to her, showing her the steps by tracing them with his fingers on her body.

This past week, the New York Times ran a story on Madame Alonso, who is turning 90 this year and has for many decades directed the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.  She was in New York for a special American Ballet Theater tribute to her.  “If a person keeps thinking, ‘How old am I going to be?; and thinking about the age, that’s the worst thing you can do.  You don’t have to think about how old you are. You have to think about how many things you want to do and how to do it and keep on doing it.”

The words came just before my own 63rd birthday, and offered a great incentive to keep alive the many projects I have in mind.  I wish I wrote faster, wish I could figure out how to manage my time better–I want to visit more places, learn French, reconnect with my singing voice–but Alonso’s advice to just keep doing it means, don’t stop to feel sorry for yourself or to upbraid yourself for time misspent.  Just keep on keeping on!

  • Hope you had a wonderful birthday celebration.
    I, too, was ballet-mad, and took lessons for many years when I was young. I wish now that I had kept up with it, but when one is young and agile, one thinks they will always be young and agile! I just dragged my arthritic body out of bed, and I am far, far removed from that young, agile person.
    For the most part, though, I try to live as she suggests. Back in the ’70’s, I had a poster that said “Keep on Truckin'”, and that’s what I always keep in mind. My momma didn’t raise no quitter!

  • Penny Thornton

    Good advice, Sara. I’m just about to move house (stressful)to a much smaller place but nicer and in a great situation with a great garden and walks nearby etc. Hoping to get a cat or two. Looking forward is always good.

  • Isobel Smith

    Really true! My two aunts are in their mid nineties, not materially wealthy but all my life I’ve only ever known them look on the bright side and age has never, never been an issue except for celebration! One now has that darned memory loss and her hearing has gone along with her eyesight but she is still cheerful and every day brings “such a lovely surprise” ! The other (her sister) is physically frail, mentally sharp as a knife, still finds funny stories in every day life and while she can still get out to visit Dot and three times a week for lunch and a little gamble on the slot machines she’ll be there! Her current aim is to reach the big 100 just so that she’ll get the telegram from Queen Elizabeth! A third is a youngster of 86 and keeps me on my toes with her sharp political comment. The thing they have in common? A tough generation brought up in hard times when self pity wasn’t an option – and they never lost their sense of humour or the ridiculous.
    Age? What’s that………………

  • Shirley

    I like the attitude of Madame Alonso who is “up there” in age. I’m 64 and have to remind myself of my great grandmother. She was an immigrant from Ireland and worked as a house maid before settling in Atchison, Kansas. She had a baby every yr. or two–Irish Catholic. She was pretty upbeat and positive in her outlook on life. Almost everybody was “all right” in her book. Lived to be 99 years old and always slept with the bedroom window cracked open in the Kansas winters.

  • Somehow these comments dovetail beautifully with the advice people got from their grandparents and mothers. Isobel Smith’s aunts remind me of my own beloved Great Aunt Lute, who, to my good fortune, lived to be 106, with wits intact until her final 6 months of life. She taught school so she could move around and explore the country back in the 1890’s, when women’s options were more limited. When she was 98, she suffered a minor stroke and had to stop climbing the ladders to clean her gutters every fall! My husband’s mother Geraldine was another grande dame. It’s too late & I’m too tired to do her justice tonight, but may write her up more fully another day.
    I’m glad to know about Shirely’s great-grandmother–since I’m a Kansas woman myself I always love hearing about my tough compatriots

  • Gary Baker

    Sarah, I lived in the Gillmore house in the early 1950’s. I was just contacted by the new owner after dropping by for a visit and leaving my card. Would love to reminisce sometime. We lived there for about 5 years after Miss Jo Gillmore passed away.

  • You know, posts like this are really uplifing. I was just today telling my daughter’s boyfriend (who is going to be 40) that I am embracing the new theory that “60 is the new 40”. Not only that…I believe it!

    Would love to read more about your husband’s mother, Geraldine.

  • Great words. I feel old and am suffering from the “it’s too late” mentality – and I’m 35 this year! I need to have words like this smacked into my head.

  • Lois Callan

    Dear Sara,
    I was reading your book Blood Shot a week or so ago and at the same time watching TV where the Blackhawks were playing the Phillies. I was at page 371, 2nd paragraph, reading the words from V I …breaking my heart over Chicago’s sports teams – the Black Hawks at that particular season. I looked up at the TV and Kane just scored the winning goal to win The Stanley Cup. Warshawski would have been pleased to see the hockey players holding the cup over their heads and skating around, wouldn’t she? I was pleased too – it was a great series. What a coincidence! Lois C.

  • Lois –I should have posted about that. Of course, V I, with her beloved dead cousin Boom-Boom a former BlackHawk, is ecstatic!
    Bani, it’s a hard burden to feel, as Harriet Martineau wrote about John C Calhoun, that “you’ve been born old.”
    Gary, yes, we’ll catch up about the Gillmore place one of these days

  • Isobel Smith

    Take heart – far from being the end 35 is just the beginning! None of that angst of youth and (hopefully) enough experience and confidence to start as you mean to go on. My best years have been since I turned 40. Not all perfect but to quote the lovely Aunty Eve (she who is about to hit 96) I’m “having a ball” finding out what I’m capable (and not) of achieving – even if it’s a simple thing like plucking up the courage to add a comment in a blog such as this.
    Be brave, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet!


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