Can you imagine yourself older? Can you imagine yourself as an Elder? Do you even want to?
In the past few months, several people have mentioned the inspiration of Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning: When I Am An Old Woman”. She pictures for us her notions of her old age. She wrote it in 1961 when she was 31 years old. She is now 81 years old. I wonder how close her poetic vision is to her reality? Does she wear purple, spend her pension on summer gloves and satin sandals, and run her stick along the public railings? Does she live her life with the spontaneity and friendships that she wished for?
Here is a beautiful recording of “Warning: When I Am An Old Woman” ready by Helena Bonham Carter.
It started me thinking about what I want for myself when I am an old woman. What will my “Warning” look and sound like? What will I want to be doing, and not doing?
The beauty and power of visioning is that you get to create with your mind the person you want to be and since the mind cannot tell reality from imagination, it believes it to be so. Visioning inspires actions and choices that align with your vision and opens your awareness to notice opportunities that might otherwise float by your consciousness.
Even more powerful than that, creating a positive vision of yourself as an elder counters negative stereotypes and internalized ageism. It’s a way to acknowledge how you want to age and the honest fears or beliefs that stand in your way: isolation, loneliness, disability, illness, dependence, mortality.
So here is my version of Warning written at the age of 46. Wonder if my vision will come to be.
Ruth’s version of Warning by Jenny Joseph
When I am an old woman
I shall wear leopard skin tops
Paint my toes wine
Break open hot lobsters with friends
Wrap myself in soft, warm layers
so that I may sit by bonfires,
stare up at twinkling stars, and
converse with the moon.
I shall stretch my limbs behind my ears
(definitely my arms, hopefully my legs)
Wear bracelets to my elbow,
pendants in my cleavage
ask the unaskable,
choose the unpopular, and
walk the unwelcome road.
I shall wear my grey hair long
sometimes loose and wild
sometimes braided, chignoned, or pony-tailed.
I shall whistle at dogs, men and great musicians
Read stories and current events,
in large print or on audiotape if I must
I shall fill my nest so that
it dances with music and books
lovers of my soul to keep me company
as I lose friends and family
filling lonely nooks and crannies
with chocolate bon-bons for my sweet tooth
(however many I have left)
of course I know that my tastebuds won’t savour
the way they do now.
I shall hug babies and children tightly,
kiss them soundly and blow bubbles with them,
nurture the world with my estrogen-less, toothy smile and bear-hugs
share my understanding, experience and wisdom with those
who seek it out.
I shall wear faded denim jeans and tortoise-shell glasses
to study for another degree
in something purely pleasurable and esoteric
unattached to being hirable or producing an income
like the history of film or music.
My drive to achieve,
to accomplish will shift into
a desire to contribute
a yearning to leave behind
my difference, my mark, my footprint
of course I know that is still my ego
Sure I’m scared
of not having enough money
of becoming another crone
living in poverty
scraping coins together
rubbing the genie’s bottle
wishing for three magical wishes
Yes I worry that I’ll fall
and not be able to walk on the sand again
beaches don’t take kindly
to walkers and wheelchairs
and who would I be
without my mobile legs?
So maybe it’s time to
let my grey hair grow in
stroke the black cat
stoke the fires