"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Opposite of Sharp

It was one of those times when I knew as the words left my mouth they meant more than I intended. Sitting across from my counselor, soaking up her optimism and wisdom, talking about the struggle that is this year, I said, "I'm just not as sharp as I was a couple of years ago."

I meant that it's harder to remember things, harder to hold large quantities of information in short term memory, harder to make the hundreds of decisions an hour the job demands. I spend my days worrying I'll forget something important, let my team down, hurt a child in some way because I'm just not at the top of my game.

In a life full of loss and disappointment, I learned early on to rely on my brain. It was the one thing I could trust to provide answers, even though it's taken me years to realize not all of the answers were helpful or even completely true. I was one sharp cookie. I felt special for being so smart, for being a step or two ahead of everyone else. It was the one thing I knew my mom valued in me. The one thing I was encouraged to develop.

Aging (I'll be sixty so very soon) has been a definite factor. The early days of menopause were a nightmare of forgetting, and a new inability to find the right words for anything. Hot flashes were a walk in the park compared to the frustration of losing the one thing I had always been able to rely on. Over time I got used to the softening of my thinking, and clung to what remained. Worked at sharpening my remaining faculties so I wouldn't hit old age with a brain dull as river rock.

Then this last year happened. The losses. The grieving. The new demands of a job that was hard when I left and has gotten harder even for people still sharp and in shape for it. The war between my head and my heart. Head furiously trying to find sharpness again and thwarted at every turn. Heart wanting gentle quiet, slow movement, time to heal.

Pat, always honest even when I'm not sure I want her to be, replied, "I know you're not as sharp. But you are much more wise. Isn't that what you've always wanted?"

Well, yes. But I thought I'd get wisdom and still get to keep what I had before. I didn't realize the price for a life lived more gently, with more kindness and tenderness, was going to be my sharpness.

In the days since that conversation I've thought a lot about being sharp. The picture I get is of honed knives, paper edges, pointy objects. Things that cut, sever, separate. My own sharpness keeping me safe from the unknown and possible hurt. But also keeping me alone, lonely, isolated.

My heart has been waiting a very long time for this. Unlike my brain who has always demanded total control, heart is willing to share. All she wants is a chance to be heard and trusted. To have her language understood. Her timing valued. So this is wisdom: trust, acceptance, surrender. No sharp edges allowed, or more importantly, needed any longer.

34 comments:

Journaling Woman said...

Sharp isn't always good--remember being told not to run with scissors? Instead of running with sharp things you are now walking. This is a much safer life :) and much more fulfilling.

PS I'm right there with you, my friend.

Desiree said...

I like Journalling Woman's analogy! As far as your ability to communicate clearly is concerned, you certainly have a very capable brain, so I wouldn't worry about it losing some of its sharpness if I were you! In your writing, I see a huge amount of heart and have ever since I started reading and following you, so I think you've got the right balance going for you :)

DJan said...

The loss of mental function as we age is not always inevitable. And it's possible it was your battle with menopause that has exacerbated those symptoms and that you will regain much of the sharpness you miss. Your compassion toward others is very evident in your writing, and it seems that aging is only bringing you more wisdom. Whatever you might have lost certainly wasn't essentially you.

Once you retire and leave all those burdens of work behind might cause your creativity to blossom. I'm glad I'll be around to find out. :-)

Niki said...

yep...i'm in that early stage you mentioned, and the brain is definitely not what it once was...I am learning to adapt, lists, notes and reminders have become my friends....

sharpness for wisdom??? hmmm...i'm going to think on that one, it seems to me I know several women who have not had to forgo one for the other....unfortunately, like you, I'm not one of them.

Now, a gentler kinder heart, a slower pace, that I can embrace :)

patricia said...

Oh how I relate to the concept of the lost sharpness. I struggle and fight with the same feelings. It is not age that has taken the rough edges off for me, but emotional erosion... I can no longer proclaim the ability to make right decisions all the time, both a blessing, a freedom and a loss in a sense. Love you and your honesty.

Lilith said...

I had an amazing memory as a child and young woman but find I often forget things now. Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes I find it quite freeing to not remember every detail. The best thing I like about getting older is that I am wiser now than I once was and I've learned to listen.

I think kids need someone to listen to them more than anything. I suspect you have that gift to give them:)

Retired Knitter said...

What a wonderful thought provoking post.

I am 64, not sure I am at the wisdom stage, but I know my brain has been slipping some too. Why is it that it feels OK?

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"But I thought I'd get wisdom and still get to keep what I had before."

At least you have gained something. Nice to know, for sure. Not a total loss. Does that make you feel better?

Seriously, so true, the slowing down. How some parts of my mind seem much more keen and aware, yet are slowed so I can savor rather than demonstrate my quickness. Contents me.

Thought provoking piece here.

yaya said...

In my profession I've learned that my experience can overcome my slight lack of quickness in situations. I'm able to stay calmer in stress also. So I guess there is that give and take in life that's always been there. We learn how to survive in every stage of life. Your wisdom does pour out of you in your writing, but mostly I can really feel your gentle spirit.

Terri Tiffany said...

You've learned so much this past year, haven't you? I think your wisdom is growing and that is what counts.

Rita said...

I know what you mean. My mind used to be like a steel trap and now it is like a steel sieve! I think it is part getting older, in that I don't sweat the small stuff as much as I did when I was younger...and a lot of my memory was for the small stuff--LOL! Fibro and menopause have done a job on my 60 year old brain. I forget words I used to know instantly...but they still usually come to me in a short while. Feels like a slower computer.

Like you, I had always relied on my mind. I was a brilliant multi-tasker and was the go-to person for finding anything or remembering how something was done or worked. Now you've got a 50/50 shot--LOL!

But I'm happier than I've ever been, so maybe that is a trade off. Not sure about wise, though. ;)

Retired English Teacher said...

This post totally blew me away. I understand all too well what you are talking about when you lament the loss of a sharp mind. I have definitely seen a decline in my ability to cut through difficult texts, complex plots, and expository pieces that once caused my mind to dissect what was written for critical analysis. Was I ever really able to do those things? Yes, I know I was, but sadly I no longer have that sharpness.

Loss and grief will cause the memory to fog over. I know that for sure. I have huge gaps in my memory.
I no longer have the stamina to thing through complex problems.

I will think about what you have said is the opposite of sharp. I think you are right, but I must first accept this. That will be another journey.

Stacy Crawford said...

Deb, wow! I love the thoughts you've provoked in me. I too want to be wise...someday.

Donna said...

Hey, us oldies but goodies have to get through life by enjoying the good times with people we love. It makes all the "other stuff" seem small. We all want to be wise and sharp and going there with dignity no matter how or where is all our goal. My mother prayed all her life for "quality of living" and she got it. I hope to be there too. Reading you, I'm sure you will too!~!

Barb said...

I've always thought that wisdom is the greatest of gifts and the hardest to obtain. Sometimes, not holding on so hard to what have been my past accomplishments allows me a freedom I didn't even know I lacked. Your writing always finds a point of reference in my own life, Deb - I appreciate your hard-earned wisdom.

Jessica Nelson said...

This is SO true. I think wisdom is sharp in its own way, but a way that heals instead of hurts (even though it might sting at first)
I always love reading your posts!!!

Sandi said...

Well, Deb, ironically I voiced almost those exact same words today in my session with Terry! But, my thoughts weren't so much about being "sharp" with the picture you mentioned, of honed knives, paper edges, pointy objects. Things that cut, sever, separate." Yet, it was true, because that is the sort of "sharp" I am finding myself with this class at times. I'm frustrated with the loss of words when I need them most, and find a sharpness in my voice I don't want to hear. I need to remember to laugh and to soften my voice, and to let my heart lead, instead of my frustration at my brain!

As always, thanks for a post that gets me thinking and leads me in a new and more positive direction!

Love you!

#1Nana said...

Yep, been there, done that! Sometimes I wonder if the wisdom I have gained is that I wasn't really as smart as I thought I was.

I thought I just had a form of Adult Onset Attention Deficit Disorder...not being able to track information that used to be so easy, but I guess I'm just aging. Now I do Sudoku instead of crossword puzzles!

Anonymous said...

You are beautiful in your softness, Deb!

xoxo,
M in Vancouver

Amber said...

Sharp is over-rated.

I bet you have just become more in balance. You are just as "smart", but that is not all you are anymore. Now you are more.

:)

Richard said...

I'll be 65 next month, and I'm still trying to accomplish the dreams I had at age 25, 35, 45, 55.
When I first retired, and a few years before I retired, I felt like I was running out of time. I have so much to do, and so little time left, that I felt I would never make it. I know it all depends on my mind staying alert and "sharp" to some degree for a while longer. But, for some reason, I no longer worry about it. If I don't accomplish all that I wanted to accomplish, it's not that big a deal, any more. I have a family. I'm even raising my 2.5 yr-old grandson. So I still have a lot of living to do. And I'll just keep on writing like I have all the time I need. Really, what else can I do? Sometimes, accepting your shortcomings frees you to enjoy life more.

Katie Gates said...

Well said, Deb. Wisdom trumps sharpness any day. And there's nothing wrong with slowing down.

colbymarshall said...

Goodfor you, love. May you continue healing.

deborahjbarker said...

Your writing is as sharp as ever Deb and your wisdom shines through. I don't feel as quick witted as I once did - more to do with loss of energy than anything else I suspect - yet I am far more relaxed and less apt to fly off the handle than I once was. Just another stage in life's rich pattern I suppose!

Pam said...

With you 110% with this Deb.

Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

Yes, wisdom is the prime thing, and along with wisdom comes understanding. That's what matters most in life, for wisdom preserves its owner alive.

Great reflections on life, as usual! And I'm always spellbound by your writing.

Linda Myers said...

I'm not as sharp as when I was younger, either. But I'm more content. A worthy trade.

Nezzy said...

I like to think of it as the file cabinet is just gettin' fuller so the file is harder to pull...heeehehehe!

I just wanted to thank ya for hoppin' on my blog...I sure hope ya enjoy the ride!

Sorry I'm late...I've been in Brownsville, TX with my mom the past week.

God bless ya and have an amazin' week!!! :o)

kario said...

Oh, my. Thank you so much for this. Because in your acceptance of yourself, I can envision my own. Your heart is so amazing and generous, I don't care if you forget anything else.

Love.

Mark Lyons said...

I SOOOO loved this post!!! I wasn't sure where you were going with it, but when I got to your ending, loved where it took you. I've had to discover myself that "heart" is so much more important that "head" is. And I'm glad that you're now trusting your heart more than your mind. Of course, I think that they are both pretty incredible in you.

I love you
Mark

Janna Qualman said...

Wisdom weighs more, I do think. And I believe the tough times in life add to our heft.

I love when the truth comes out of our mouths, even though we hadn't thought to consider it yet.

Hugs to you, Deb!

BECKY said...

Deb, you write so beautifully!

Michelle Fayard said...

Being too sharp can have a painful connotation. To grow in age and experience is to become more balanced. We gain so much more than we lose--and maybe we "lose" things that are important to us only when we are young and haven't deepened. What a beautifully thought-provoking post. I am delighted to be a new follower.

Kathryn Grace said...

Sometimes what you write is so true for me that I think you must have somehow climbed inside my brain. I miss that feeling of knowing where the neurons were firing, where the information was stored, and especially where I could find it again in a microsecond.