Ways of Seeing: Learn to handle life’s challenges

My generation grew up hiding under school desks, arms folded over our heads waiting for the bomb to drop. I didn’t grasp the gravity, just a sense of a scary unknown.
Wellesley College freshman year was another scary unknown. I had not been keen on leaving where I’d always lived, a small town in northern New York State. My big accomplishment in high school was a romance with the outstanding athlete of our class of ninety. The summer before, I read the required “Things Fall Apart” understanding little of it and worked my same job in a souvenir shop at Fort Ticonderoga. Once on campus, not having learned to study, I didn’t realize what other students were doing in those long hours between classes.
Fortunately, I had a sister nearby who’d graduated from Wellesley the year I entered. Carol and her husband would invite me to brunch at their Cambridge apartment with graduate students they knew. They took me to dozens of foreign films and exhibits of modern art. Carol believed I’d enjoy this world as she did, and I slowly developed new habits. In the spring the dean wrote to commend me on improvement from my ghastly first semester to a better second.
The awareness that began then about how to use one’s time has taken on new importance.
Ten years ago I witnessed my mother and then my father’s slow but steady loss of strength and independence and then their deaths. Five years ago my husband had a massive heart attack. It happened at home more than twenty minutes from the nearest hospital. He recovered, but this scare and losing my parents brought mortality close — another scary unknown.
As soon as my husband could, we took a trip he’d wanted to do for years, driving to the coast, then over the mountains to the rainforest, getting lost, getting help, and finding our way around Costa Rica. It was wonderful.
A year later in 2016 we bought a used Road Trek camper, rented out our house, and left in September for nine months on the road. This trip was one we talked about taking since 1971 when, before we were married, we bought an old sedan, a pup tent, and cast iron pot and headed for Alaska. No house or yard work opened up a lot of time. The days were full of exploring. I’d ask myself, “Was that just this morning?”
We liked it so well we’re now on our second extended road trip across the country.
Like college years, friends and family play vital roles in what I do and how I feel. 
In 2008, I’d met an alumna who graduated from Wellesley twenty years earlier than I had. We’ve become friends through mutual interest in new places, politics, and people. On a recent visit to her small house where she lives at ninety-two, widowed, using a walker, she raves about the online courses she has taken this year.
Lois no longer drives, but a well-worn atlas sits on her desk next to her computer. She places in my hands books on political theory and history she wants me to read, and shows me gourmet food items she’s ordered online. Outside on her ramp, she speaks of her son and daughter-in-law and neighbors who help her. Lois is relatively new to the small community, although not to her beloved Vermont, and has forged many connections through library and local programs.
The challenges of adjusting to campus life, making respectable grades, even figuring out what to do after college pale in comparison to the challenges of aging. The scary unknowns are out there. But, we’ve lived with the nuclear challenge thus far, and Lois, who continues to live fully in spite of losses, inspires me. I’m hopeful I can handle the attacks of old age in more practical ways than hiding under my desk and feel good about what I leave behind when that day comes.
Jill Vickers is a native of the Champlain Valley, a retired teacher of literacy and the founder of a video production company. Special interests include family history, travel and outdoor activities. She lives with her husband and their springer spaniel in Bridport.

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