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Been There. Done That. Now What?

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Hi there!

I am an 84-year-old social activist – a calling that began in Pittsburgh, where I was recruited in 1942 at the age of 15 (69 years ago — oy) to organize an attempt to buy Jews out of Nazi Europe. That experience gave some focus to a world gone mad and, I believe, saved my adolescence. (And we had fun!) I have never since left “the fold” — who would I be if activism were not an important part of my identity?

Lately, though, I’ve been considering a new persona as I transition into my precious remaining years, asking myself, What? and Who? and How? This is where the Frying Pan comes in – by inviting me to post my thoughts about my plans here. Will these be more of the same? (And I do mean “same.” How many times can I gather up the passion and energy to work for peace, women’s rights, strong unions, criminal justice, blah blah blah?)

A few weeks ago I had a real downer. I woke up sick with a cold and cough that lasted almost three weeks. And then there was the daily news. I forget what the headline was that started my depression—but my response was, “I quit!”

I thought, “The world doesn’t want to change. The human condition is still too primitive and the price for victories too tentative and too confusing. Did the women’s movement really produce Michele Bachmann and What’s Her Name?”

Happy to curl up and be miserable, I looked for reasons to be cynical. That was easy — who could argue with Gertrude Stein: “There ain’t no answer, there ain’t gonna be an answer, there never has been an answer, that’s the answer.”

Travel was not an option — my 97-year-old husband is not up to taking his shoes off at airports. So I lay around and pouted for a few weeks, then got encouragement from some friends who said: “Do want you want—you’ve earned it. If not now, when? Go to more movies, plays and listen to music, read more mysteries, learn to play mahjong, take more courses, take piano lessons.”

Gratefully, I’m only your average mood swinger, not a true depressant, and when the darkness lifted and some light came through I had a different plan.

I decided I don’t have to quit my life as I have known it—but I do have to rethink it. I never believed I was involved in activism because of some noble mission—I’ve always just been comfortable with political junkies who share my values. They are the folks that I want to hang out with. Why would I give them up?

But aging truths must be acknowledged. I need help.

So, I figured out who to go to. No, not to a therapist — it’s not my past shtick I wish to overcome. There are a plethora of smart people out there who recognize that my struggle is not unique. They help me understand that it’s learning to live in this strange new country and world, at my age, that changes all my familiar roles. I have to come to terms with new descriptions and commitments for who I am in my family, with friends, and communally — and how much of a 21st-century techie I am willing to become. And, maybe finally, with my need for, and understanding of, my religious/spiritual life.

I am coming to terms with realizing that my happiness depends on a lot of luck and what I am able to create. In the coming months I will be blogging here about some of my thoughts and those of scholars, writers and other 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds who are helping me look forward to staying involved in new ways.

I’m grateful to the Frying Pan for this opportunity.

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