"What if I become ill or incapacitated?"
Rachel Naomi Remen: "Having worked almost half my lifetime with cancer patients, I've seen people discover that they can endure things they never thought possible. When you become ill, you discover a lot about yourself. Your relationships can become far more genuine. The ones that aren't real fall away. It may sound strange, but many people talk about a sense of gratitude for the deeper, fuller life they lead. It's a discovery process. Alzheimer's is a whole other thing. That's something I worry about. I identify with my mind. It's who I am. Losing who you are is different from having a physical illness. How do I handle the fear? I just have to live with it. Yet the fear gives me an appreciation for my capacities today. It awakens me to the richness of my life now."
Barbara Ehrenreich: "My father died of Alzheimer's when he was 72, so the fear of losing my mind haunts me. How do I handle it? I want to wire my computer up so that when I start making too many mistakes, it'll automatically electrocute me. No, really: I read little health tips all the time about how to keep from getting Alzheimer's. The reason I went on hormone replacement therapy is that ten years ago, doctors thought it would prevent Alzheimer's. Then, of course, I got breast cancer at 58, probably with some help from the HRT. So I haven't figured out what to do with my fear—but it does make me ask myself, What things do I want to get done while I can? I think that's an important question.
"I'm worried that I'll get to the end of my life and realize I haven't even used a fraction of my potential."
Maya Angelou: "Becoming a bag lady. Getting Alzheimer's. Ending up alone. All of these concerns speak to a fear not of aging but of living. What is a fear of living? It's being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself—for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don't know what you're here to do, then just do some good. I'm convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they're stones that don't matter. As long as you're breathing, it's never too late to do some good."
Abigail Thomas: "You're worried about how you're going to feel at the end of your life? What about right now? Live. Right this minute. That's where the joy's at.
"To have a fear, you have to be able to imagine the future. I never think about the future. Ever. Has that always been true? God, no. For much of my life, everything was in the future. Everything was just about to happen for better or for worse. I had absolutely no awareness of what I was doing at the moment. Now it's all about what I'm doing now. The present. I'm not interested in the future. I have so much less of it than I used to.
"Bad things have happened to me—five years ago, my husband was hit by a car and suffered traumatic brain injury. He has only the moment available to him. He has no short-term memory, he has no thought of the future. So my life circumstances make it easy for me to focus on where I am right this minute, and to enjoy the hell out of it. Yes, the whole thing is heartbreaking. It's agony. But the advantage is that I've learned how a moment can extend itself, can contain so much."
Joan Borysenko: "At age 59, I worry less than I once did. I see that impermanence is not just some concept that the Buddhists developed. Everything is going to change anyhow. I can't control it. And so I can simply be here now. The work that you do in your lifetime—accepting yourself and forgiving your parents—all comes together. You just get up and you say, 'Aha, this is the fruit. I am a woman I love.'"
Rachel Naomi Remen: "I'm a successful author, and I travel all over the United States—a very good life. There are many people who have made my life deeply meaningful—and I hadn't met one of them by the time I was 42. I had a whole other career as a physician. Then at 42, I became involved with people who have cancer. I became involved with their psychological and spiritual growth. I got my first book contract when I was 56, and it became a New York Times best-seller.
"Here's what I want to say: Your life can change and deepen and become profoundly satisfying in middle age. I thought that if I didn't 'make it' by the time I was 35, it was all over. At 35 I would have been stunned to know the way things would come out for me."
We Hear You!