Choice or Chance – a Tossup?

by Rosemary Gray Snelgrove

The Joy of Living on Olive Avenue

Last week I missed a second event:  not just the final “First Interfaith” Out of the Cold but also the planning meeting for the 30th Anniversary Olive Avenue Street Party.   Thirty years ago a neighbour approached me saying “Let’s have a street party” and we did because, like Sparky and the Gang, enough of us thought it should happen.  The party has grown over the years, but holds to a simple format.  Clear the street of cars, start early, let the kids play on the street (WOW) while banners and decorations go up, have a parade up and down to signal the official beginning.

For 29 years we have then exhausted ourselves through the day, taking in the excitement of the altered streetscape, watching the contests, drinking coffee on different porches, moving up and down the pavement as the games proceed, cheering on the Raw Egg Toss contestants (for years Dave won, and lately he and Laura have been a formidable team).   Perhaps the crowning glory is the huge pot-luck supper on tables that we pull out on to the street and spend several hours lingering over.  The Concert on the pavement always has a few surprises, kids showcasing skills that have improved since last year. 

Then we dance till the law says to stop.

I feel a great attachment to the Party (as you can tell by the prolonged description).  It contributed to the shape of our family life.  One-on-one encounters with neighbours formed the initial bonds.  But at the Party we celebrated belonging.   Our daughter grew up very secure in her sense of place.  Her high school friends were astonished that she knew who lived in each house on Olive but she took it for granted.

When Dave and I were both incapacitated by illness a few years ago, the demonstrated concern and kindness – and delivered food – was incredibly warming.  We knew we belonged to Olive Avenue, on Olive Avenue, and among those neighbours. 

But We Don’t Live There Anymore!

And yet.  And yet.  We don’t live there anymore.  A psychiatrist friend cautioned me about leaving behind a place where there were solid connections.  He counseled that, for the elderly (which we aren’t yet!) such connections are vital to good health.  Oh dear.

We were invited to the planning meeting and will go to the Party.  We’ll even help out with the History Presentation.  But our belonging is as guests.

Moving On as an Aging Phenomenon

And so two blogs in a row include the reality of not being able to hold on to the past, to even the great parts.   But it’s time to look ahead, I am told by so many.  And I’ve worked on it.  But the attachments to what has given form and substance to adult life make sense. No short cuts to the grieving.  Nonetheless, it can happen that holding to the old structures isn’t sustainable, for one or another reasons.  To have all the choices one might want requires considerable financial resources and good health.  They don’t always arrive in a timely way. 

The Options May Narrow

It’s interesting to come to the point of narrowed options.  It can happen fairly quickly.  Until 10 years ago, I didn’t think very much at all about the future Seniors Era.  Thought I’d just keep working as long as I needed to.  But how do you really know that your heart will start acting funny and high blood pressure will make it harder to do some things?  Darn!   

I did manage to hang in working until 69.  And I still think I might have one or two more jobs in me before I’m absolutely retired.  But like anyone, I would prefer not to have to.   For now, am working at Cardio Fitness to help keep options open.

How Much to Plan for the Future?

 If I’m not on Easy Street at this age, how come?  Well, I didn’t plan enough for it.  I’ve just about always been employed.  But!  I chose the luxury of trying different things.  I kept responding to challenges that were out there and didn’t think about the reality that the pay didn’t allow for solid pension savings.  Bad management, sort of.   But if asked, I‘d say fervently that I’ve had a wonderful life.  Did lots of worthwhile things. 

So I’m not complaining at all.   But if I were asked if I have a message for our daughter about this, I’d perhaps say that a person who has worked at all kind of jobs might end up at 70 with the precise fruits of her scattered labours – scrambling to meet the medical costs with a trunkful of great memories and many well-loved friends.  “You pays your money and you takes your choice”.

The Carnival View of Life

I’m suggesting that life is – if you choose to  regard it that way – something of a carnival.  There are so many shapes and shifts that give lives their form, until the next change.   Friends end up living with and loving a dog because their daughter brought one home.  A widowed teacher, gifted woman, family grown, goes to work in Africa towards the end of her career and marries a Muslim man as his second wife, because they simply love each other.  A couple in their 70’s undertake care of their small grandson – drawing from the Montesouri training program at which they met 40 years ago – demontrating quite brilliant caregiving.  Is it not all a wonderful carnival of chance and choices??

I believe that God smiles at it all – the ‘mistakes’ as well as the wisely chosen options.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Choice or Chance – a Tossup?

  1. Dear Rosemary
    I was so very impressed by this week’s blog. I want to think about it for a couple of days before I ‘have MY say’, as I am wont to do.
    One thing though, It made me ver clempt as Mike Myers says and until I understand why…I wait on the will of heaven, and thank you for writing it.
    With much love
    Diana

  2. Karen

    Dear Rosemary,
    More in the Diana vein….as another taking the path and following your lead. What a beautiful expression of the “letting go” that has to happen. I am in that grieving time and wondering if or how I will be able to hang on to the wonderful and blessed experience of living and working in Toronto and loving so many of God’s lovely human creations.
    Thankyou
    Love and blessings Karen

  3. Rosemary, I’ve been pondering your blog for a week, but still have only a jumble of thoughts. Here are two rather disjointed ones.

    First, about your remarks about “bad planning.” Having seen many friends hang onto rather soul-destroying jobs through their fifties of the sake of a pension, I can’t help feeling you chose the better path. As my 92 year old mother has advised me over the past 10 years, “If you want to do something, do it now!”

    And speaking of my mother . . . my parents have just moved to assisted living. The move meant letting go of their beautiful home for the past 19 years — a large condo with a panoramic view of Vancouver mountains, water and city. I thought they would be broken-hearted. But oddly, after the first lurch, they seem content with their new little room, the VERY few possessions they have been able to take with them, and the more modest view from the facility’s lounge. What I thought would feel, for them, a narrowing and diminishing, seems instead just right for their current way of thinking. My mom said, “I don’t want to go back to the old place. My future is here.”

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