I ran into a friend I haven't seen awhile at the dentist's a couple of weeks ago, we stood in the parking lot and caught up a bit. I asked her if she were planning to lamb this Spring and she got a very somber and serious look, and said, "oh, no I don't think it's right to bring any more animals into our lives that might outlive us." She looked quite grave. Really, I said, Maria and I were lambing in the Spring and thinking about getting goats. Then I realized what she was really saying, she was in her 60's and expected to die before any of the lambs.
When I told her that I intended to lamb, even at my advanced age, she looked at me uncomfortably, as if I were about to beat a kitten with a stick. I might have included this in my "Creative Aging Manifesto," part of my Ted Talk being edited right now. There is this very somber idea about aging – my friend must have said a dozen times, "you know we aren't getting any younger," "we need to face reality" – that suggests it is time to begin slipping away from life, even before you leave it.
And, she added, shaking her head sorrowfully, her dogs were getting older too.
My friend is roughly my age and I told her that I have no intention of abandoning my writing and life with animals because I am getting older. Nuts to that, I thought, I know where I am, for one thing Maria is younger than I am, but for another I can always make plans for the animals in case something happens to me or us – Maria and I have talked about that. Animals have provided great life, work and health and connection for me. And it's a good idea, if something happened to both of us, our friends ought to know where to bring the animals in our lives.
For me, a life with animals is all about life, not death. Farm chores keep me very active and busy and engaged. So does sheepherding with Red. And walks with the dogs. And wrestling with sheep. And brushing and doing Tai Chi with donkeys. They provide me with many gifts, from photography to my books. I don't speak ill of my age, or apologize for it. I never say "we aren't getting any younger" or "at our age." My age is my age, and apart from sore knees and chilled bones in the winter, it does not define me, I am writing more than ever, taking more photos than ever, I have plans for a bunch more books.
I do not live in denial about my age, I am aware of it, I am much closer to the end but the beginning, but I will not close life off to me because the culture around me has turned getting older into a capitalist race for health care, IRA's and medicines. I will downsize my life when I must, not when the world beyond thinks it's a good idea.One day I'll be lying in bed, propped up on pillows, Maria will be reading me short stories, Red will be gray and wobbly, lying at my feet, Lenore will be curled up in a ball by my toes. I don't see animals out of my life when I picture it.
Animals have brought me love, health and connection, work and stimulation, creativity in every imaginable way. I do not choose to reduce my life with them to an insurance adjuster's calculation of now many years I am like to live before they die. I told my friend that I did not wish to give up life now for somebody else's idea of life down the road. I didn't think she liked hearing it.
We each have our own stories. She has hers, I have mine.