A dog park theory of aging

Many years ago, I spent a summer in New York City, along with my sheltie, Sophie. We spent countless hours in a Greenwich Village dog park, where I noticed a curious pattern. The regulars who came to the park — the tall TV executive with his bulldog, the retired librarian with her terrier — seemed to transform as they left. As they walked out of the park, each person turned into a brusque, harried New Yorker. But inside the park each showed a softness, a vulnerability, and our conversations were surprisingly deep. This softness was, I believe, linked to our extravagant love for our animals, as if, along with our pets, our beating hearts were out on display, there for each other to see.

I think about the dog park sometimes when I reflect on getting older. I’m 71 now, and what surprises me about aging is that there’s so much emotion, such a richness of feelings. Of course there is loss, lots of it, and many of our losses are obvious. We may walk funny due to hip pain, or we lean forward to hear better. Some of us are bald due to chemo, or hair loss related to aging; others wear bandages from a fall or biopsy. Our faces have wrinkles, our hair no longer has color. When you’re getting old, there’s no hiding it. So, like those in the dog park, we’re wearing our hearts on our sleeves; we’re softer than when we were young. Now, though, that softness concerns our own bodies, our fears about how they’re diminishing.

Our vulnerabilities are visible. When we see each other, we see those losses, that vulnerability, and we’re like refugees from the same country, speaking a secret language. In that language our conversations, even when casual, are surprisingly meaningful. I believe when we ask, “How are you?” we’re really asking, “Are you all right? Can I help?”

This softness, this vulnerability, is what I love most about aging. I don’t love that others are going through hard times; of course not. But I do appreciate that, compared to […]

By |April 3rd, 2022|


You might ask why I recently found myself walking barefoot the six blocks to my home, at night, in late winter. I’d realized too late that I left my shoes in the baby’s room at my daughter’s house just as she was beginning the bedtime routine, and retrieving them would disrupt that process. But I had to go home. My daughter’s shoes were too small for me, her husband’s too big, and I hadn’t worn socks. So I did a quick calculation – not too cold, no snow on the ground, not too far. Sure, I could make it. So I set off in the dark – barefoot.

Here’s what I didn’t expect – those six blocks became an adventure.

Immediately I realized that my notion of sidewalks was flawed. These were not the smooth, creamy surfaces of my imagination; no, these sidewalks were spiky and prickly, studded with a million uneven pebbles. Yikes! This was painful! So I quickly veered into lawns, where the grass, after a rainy day, was still wet. While most houses had lawns, some didn’t, so I found myself leaping from sidewalk to mulch to lawn over and over again, trying to find the least painful surface.

When was the last time I walked barefoot on grass? I couldn’t remember the last time. Doing so brought back childhood memories of summer evenings dashing through yards with my neighborhood gang. I had loved that time of day, hovering on the edge of a dark scary night, yet knowing we wouldn’t hover too long, because soon our moms would be calling us home. I felt once again the wildness, the freedom of childhood.

But there’s another thing about walking on people’s lawns in the dark: it feels vaguely criminal. I’m a 71-year-old woman and it’s been a long time since I broke the law. And now I was trespassing! It felt pretty good.

There were other challenges, too. Some people were out walking, and I had to cross a big street. What did I look like? I was an old woman walking barefoot at night. I […]

By |March 17th, 2022|

Extra light

Since the time change a few weeks ago, I often sit and gaze out my window after dinner, letting the new light wash over me. Memories wash over, too, of being a kid on long ago April evenings after the days just got longer. The air smelled of spring, earthy and fresh, as after dinner we neighborhood kids— Dickie Hanshew, Jackie Renner and me — scrambled down the alley behind our houses, playing tag, riding bikes, chasing each other. Alleys held just the right mix of safety and mystery: the mystery of secrets glimpsed in garages and trash cans, the safety of knowing that, as the evening chill deepened, our moms would be calling us home.

In those first weeks after that long-ago time change, it all felt pretty magical: the mystery, the safety, the scents of warm earth and the sweet sweat of children, and most of all, that extra hour of light. That light held the promise of summer, its endless hours and days, not far behind.

The mystery promised by those long-ago evenings was the first of so many — not long after, Jackie Renner died suddenly, the most stunning event of my childhood. I don’t know what happened to Dickie Hanshew, or even if he’s still alive. And I’m still surprised that my mom and dad aren’t home any more.

Of course that’s the greatest mystery of all — that people I once knew, once played with, once caught the scent of their skin on a warm April night — they might have vanished. Oh, but there’s one mystery greater: someday not that long from now, I’ll vanish too.

More than 50 years have passed since those childhood evenings. There’s no denying that this season of life is darker, with the mix tipped toward mystery, not safety. Most of my friends struggle with loss: the loss of hearing or sight, of movement, of strength, of loved ones, of meaningful work. Soon I have to put down my beloved old dog and I’m afraid my heart will break right in two.

And yet. Often, along with darkness and loss, getting older feels […]

By |December 9th, 2021|


Recently, I read an interview with a well-known author, a woman in her late 50s, who joked that she wants to launch a private-eye business staffed by women her age and older. Older women in our culture are invisible, the author said, so they would make perfect spies.

Her comment made me laugh. It also, after a recent cross-country train trip, made me wince a little. That trip was my first experience with feeling unseen.

Mostly, I love riding Amtrak. I love feeling time moving slowly, spending hours watching as Montana rolls by, settling deeply into a novel. I love meeting people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.

But the invisibility aspect of my recent ride threw me.

Mainly it happened at mealtimes. In the dining car a single traveler like myself is seated with others, an unusual situation in our culture, as we rarely share meals with strangers. When my dining companions were my age or older, we talked easily, using well-worn Amtrak conversational starters: Where are you from? Why are you riding the train?

But when my dining companions were young, and especially young men, things were different. The young people would engage with each other, leaving me out, with the apparent assumption that I, an older woman sitting at the same table, had nothing to say. At least, I had nothing to say that was interesting. They talked right past me. They acted as if I wasn’t there.

Why do some assume an older woman has nothing to say? I find that women my age and older are the most interesting people I know. Perhaps it’s because we, over a lifetime, have had to re-invent ourselves more than anyone else. We go from being rich in female youth and beauty — a powerful currency in this society — to, well, no longer having that currency, and needing to find a new sense of self-worth. We go from centering our lives on our young children to stepping aside as those children grow up and move into the world. We move back and forth between work and home, serving as caregivers, first to children, then parents. None […]

By |November 9th, 2021|
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