I held a remarkable African necklace in my hand when she walked up and asked if she could help. The necklace, made of twine and feathers, spoke to me. This is the kind of thing I can’t cram into a backpack or bag when I come home from my international travels. I’d prefer to get it from a craftsperson in country, but sometimes you can’t take a big sculpture home or something that won’t make the journey intact.
This necklace was the latter.
Marjorie priced it. On sale. Happily I placed it in my cart.
She commented about never being able to travel. That set us to talking.
Marjorie’s 66, a year older than I am. She’s shorter, heavier, with lively eyes and a lovely grin when she began smiling. We spoke about the various travels I’ve taken, and she had lots of questions.
I shared some of my favorite stories about overseas accidents. How those, more than anything, were my best tales, and that recovering from them taught me a lot about resilience.
Slowly Marjorie shared some of her story. Separated but not divorced from her husband for seven years, she feels she’s in limbo. A Harley Rider- at least before- she has had multiple accidents. Pins here and there. Reconstructed knees. Like a bionic woman, but not exactly.
Because she has a doctor who constantly tells her what she can’t do.
No more hiking. No more Harley. No more much of anything that involves movement except stocking retail shelves while leaning on a cart. What a death sentence from a doctor.
Marjorie turned to food. At the back of the store was shelf after shelf of international goodies. Easy access to some of world’s most exquisite foods. The pounds piled on.
At 66, Marjorie’s world narrowed down to a pinpoint. Food. Never to see places in the world she dreamed about- the places where all those exotic foods came from. Never hike again. Her beloved Harley’s wheels might as well be flat.
We talked about how the body loves to be healthy. Vivid, lively, health- based on movement, good food and a good reason to be alive.
It had never occurred to Marjorie to challenge her doctor. Get another opinion. At this age my generation still has trouble questioning doctors. That’s how so many of us have ended up in such bad shape. I gave her a reference to my sports chiropractor, who, for the last 15 years, has guided me through epic, life-threatening injuries right back to the horse, the mountain, the kayak.
The more we spoke about possibilities, the more her face lost some of its weariness. She plans to file the divorce papers. That’s the first step. She’s been trying to swim the English Canal with a grand piano attached to her ankle. Her husband’s financial problems are not her issue. Her life is her responsibility. Besides, he’s the one who walked out on Marjorie. She owes him nothing.
She owes herself the rest of her life.
The next step is to take her health in hand. She said that she was convinced her life was over at 66. It never occurred to her that she had options.
When we give others permission to dictate what we can and can’t do (most especially when it pertains to health) we give away all our power. Waiting for someone else to file divorce papers is a fool’s dream especially if it’s not in their best interests to do so. We can wait and wait.
And eventually we end up with a great many reasons and excuses rather than a full life. Then we die.
Expecting today’s physicians to work with us preventively, to advise us on nutrition, and to point us towards shining health is also a fool’s errand. This would cut them out of too many profits. While there are good docs out there, I haven’t found many. People do what pays. Sickness, grotesquely-overpriced pharmaceuticals, and expensive procedures pay. Handsomely. Truly good docs, the ones who care deeply, are often punished by the very healthcare system they intended to serve. First, do no harm. Food is medicine. Exercise is the fountain of youth.
When the medical community is provided incentives based on poor health disease and suffering, that is what the entire system will move towards- ensuring more poor health.
The precise same setup exists in our prison system. We’ll create prisoners, because prisoners mean profits. Slave labor. That engenders corruption, lying, and cheating throughout our justice system, especially in minority communities. No prisoner flow, no profits. “We are answerable to the shareholders.” Activity flows towards reward. It’s the oldest law about motivation.
If Marjorie wants to make her last three decades the best of her entire life- which is entirely within her reach- she needs to become an outlier. Someone who challenges and questions and researches. Someone who joins online communities (I gave her several, including Margaret and Me Over Sixty) where others like her are dealing with similar challenges.
Above all she needs- as we all do — to find a way to be useful, valued, and respected. American society is unkind to older women right about the time they have the most to offer. The only way to rewrite the script we’re handed as the way older women are supposed to act is burn the script.
Think, Helen Mirren. Think, Jane Goodall. Think.. why not me?
This is your life, your movie, your novel. Don’t let others determine what’s in the chapters or how it ends.
Burn the script. Then write your own.