Old souls and young souls. That’s what this world is made up of. Neither is better or worse. We each have a role to play and countless lessons to learn, unlearn and relearn.
I’ve always been partial to old souls, being one myself, so it never surprises me when I connect deeply with someone of the older and often wiser persuasion. I seem to be attracted to a very unique strain of old souls who as they age (by some miracle) remain young at heart.
Scene: The patio at the Agora at the Riverside. Boulder Creek whispers politely in the background. I’m sitting on the lower level of the three-tiered concrete patio closest to the creek on a green wooden bench, under an umbrella. Directly across from me sits Elyse, with Daniella to her right. One level up from us, a band consisting of all white men, plays Island Music. Frequent clarinet solos can be heard, as each tune beckons passing strangers to join our sundry bunch. A striking older woman with a perfectly coiffed silver bun enters accompanied by an older man. Her eyes are a daring blue. She is, there is only one word for it, alive.
I lock eyes with her, and for a moment I can’t breathe. She and I share a soul, of this I am sure.
Her dress is cheerfully flamboyant, but as she walks her grace lends an air of singular elegance to the bright flashy hues. She and her companion sit three tables down from us. I can’t stop staring. I can’t stop smiling. Each time I smile at her, she knowingly smiles back at me.
Now Daniella and Elyse are staring too. We’re all enamored with the old woman with the daring blue eyes.
Elyse says that she reminds her of the old woman from the Titanic movie. We all laugh. More staring.
We start to wonder about her and her life. Surmising that the old man must be her husband. How sweet that these two found each other and are so obviously happy after all these years. If only we could be so lucky?
I shout to her over the music, “You’re lovely”. She doesn’t hear me, but she can read my lips. She smiles and now it’s me who reads her reply “Thank you”.
I lay down on the bench and stare at the amber light streaming through the tree branches above me. I start to count the leaves, while Danielle and Elyse make small talk. Their giggles sporadically drawing me in at random intervals.
As much as I don’t want to trespass on their time with one another, there is one question I must ask the woman with the daring blue eyes. And so, I pull myself from the bench and bravely make my way over to her table. Her eyes welcome me. I slide in beside her.
“Hi. I’m Erica.”
“Hello. I’m Ila.” She pronounces it like “Ida” but with an “L” instead of “D”. Eye-La. Even her name is lovely and unique.
“I’m really sorry to bother you, but I have a question. You seem so happy. And I was just wondering…what’s the secret to a happy life?”
“I am happy. And I think the secret is to be present in your life. To be present for your life. Really present.”
This isn’t new wisdom for me. My teacher says this all the time. As did her teacher. But it might be the first time it’s really sunk in.
“And, is this your husband?” I point to the old man beside her.
“Oh heavens no,” she says, “If we were married, we’d probably be at home right now sitting in front of a TV and arguing about the remote. We wouldn’t be here on this beautiful day enjoying this live music. If we were married, we wouldn’t be out having FUN.” She stresses this last word.
“I’m an Octogenarian, and so is my friend.” She’s casually letting me know that she’s over 80…but not quite 90 yet.
I start to wonder about what she did for a living and if she was ever married…and before I can stop myself the questions pour out of me. She started as a secretary in her younger days, and did a lot of things throughout her life. And yes, she has been married before. Three times in fact. Here she stops and says, “I never liked being married. I would stop being me and I would become ‘Mrs. So-&-So’. Of course, it was never their fault. I did it. It was my choice…I would just lose myself.”
I nod. I can absolutely relate. I believe it’s why marriage has never been, and more than likely, will never be something I’ll actively seek out. I’ve known women through the years who desperately longed to be a part of a “we”. To have children. To settle into a co-created bliss. I’ve never shared their dreams.
Again and again, I keep meeting women just like Ila. Women in their 60’s and beyond, who tell me that if they had it to do over again, they would never have married. They would never have had children. They would have chosen a different life.
Don’t take this to mean that I believe not getting married and not having children is the only path to a happy and fulfilled life. Not at all. But I do believe, that for some people, it’s the right path.
I was in a relationship for 11.5 years. He asked me to marry him three times. I said no, three times. I even lost the engagement ring (which by the way – was perfect – sapphires and diamonds in a princess cut). He wanted kids. I said never. He wanted a quiet life. I wanted to explore the world.
I want to fall in love. But I don’t have the expectation that loving someone means melding into one another. I also don’t have the expectation that love is forever. Or that anything is forever really. Life is nothing if not uncertain. Impermanent. Groundless.
When I talk about what a perfect relationship might look like for me, I often quote Joan Didion. Joan was married to John Gregory Dunne for 39 years. They were both writers, and they often worked on projects together. Chances are, you’ve probably seen at least one of the movies they co-wrote the screenplay to – A Star is Born, True Confessions, Up Close & Personal. But what has always struck me about their relationship, is one passage Joan wrote in the book chronicling her husband’s unexpected death – The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan is talking about their relationship and she says:
…when we walked in Central Park in the early morning. We walked every morning. We did not always walk together because we liked different routes but we would keep the other’s route in mind and intersect before we left the park.”
I love this idea of two people whose lives intersect. There is no co-dependency. There is an absolute freedom and unconditional support of each others individuality in that passage. I can only imagine that Joan and John had a great deal of FUN in their life together.