Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

Single and overseas- Part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1. If you haven’t read that part yet, please do before starting here.

I’m writing about singleness. However, I don’t particularly like to be singled out (pun intended) for my marital status, either for the good or the bad. Calling attention to singleness in juxtaposition to marriage breaks my internal concept of community. Not that we can’t intentionally fellowship with those of the same marital status, but when we start “us”ing and “them”ing, we lose the value of others’ perspectives.

Yes, I’m single and singleness, like any other status in life, has pros and cons. So could we talk about the pros and cons as if we’re talking about life rather than opposite sides? (Note to self!)

Despite the trials of any marital status, marriage and singleness each come with a healthy dose of blessing. (Other statuses come with blessings too, but another day, another time, another blogger.)

We should never resent each other for enjoying our blessings. 

I have been there: that twinge of resentment while watching a husband and wife share a look with layers that no one else understands. Loneliness crashes over me as I momentarily want–no, crave–that same level of companionship.

If I resent others their blessings, I shouldn’t freely enjoy my own blessings. If I resent the mother who tucks in her footie-pajama-ed children with Goodnight, Moon and then crawls into bed next to her warm husband, then neither should I enjoy my uninterrupted nights of sleep or the freedom to read late into the night without the light bothering anyone. Neither should I enjoy the spur of the moment trip to who-knows-where without packing diapers, changes of miniature clothing, and a pack-and-play. Neither should I enjoy… Well, you get the point. Go make your own list. 

Instead of resentment, I want enjoyment of the blessings of my today calling. And one step further: I want to encourage others to enjoy their blessings, regardless of their marital status.

The truth is that it’s hard to step into someone else’s perspective. We will probably never quite “get” each other unless we’ve been there. And even then…

Yes, all of us want to be known and understood, but I wonder, in those times we don’t understand, if extended grace can be just as beautiful as empathy.

Single and overseas- Part 1

I’m not going to lie. Being single and overseas is fantastic… but not always. And, on the flip-side, being married and overseas is fantastic… but not always (so I’ve heard).

My perspective is limited to singleness. Maybe you can relate or maybe my account can give you a deeper understanding of the singles you know, whether or not they’re overseas. 

Either way, I feel vulnerable as I write this, knowing that my voice is only one voice. But if my one voice can strengthen understanding and relationships, then it is worth speaking.

Below is a rough sketch of what it’s like to be single and overseas:

#1

Most singles I know don’t feel called to a life of singleness. Once, a young lady was asked whether or not she was called to be single. Her response was, “Today I am.” Although I heard the story 2nd or 3rd hand, I’ve carried that phrase with me for years now. No matter how long or short my single life may be, I have both calling and purpose.

#2

This next point may come as a shock: singles aren’t deadened to desire. (I guess that’s why so many of us end up getting married!) Sometimes, we act deadened out of self-defense to hold back the entourage of married people who want to “fix” us. 

Each time the siblings in my family entered an amorous relationship or got married, we would joke, “Well, at least everyone knows you have hormones!” 

Desire comes on varying levels at varying times, but it’s true: married or single, God created us with hormones.

#3

One of the strongest downsides to being single and overseas is the loneliness. Not that you can’t be married and lonely. Yet, there is something particularly lonely about leaving behind the entirety of your former life.

I brought no one with me. There has been no carry-over from my one world to this one, unless you count the few knicknacks and leftover articles of clothing now worn thin.

#4

Ideally, singles on a small team or in a small group will get along. However, being single doesn’t make you compatible with everyone.

Once, a friend helped me count how many people I have lived with in my lifetime (not just overseas). We came up with 30. 30!? That’s a lot of new people to adjust to and to find that this one is a germ freak and this one might come into your room at 9 p.m. and not leave even though you have a deadline and that one leaves hairballs in the sink (or was that me?).

“We’re not married!” one friend told her teammates when they assumed that two single team ladies should make a life decision together. 

Singles don’t always want to be paired together as an entity whenever a team or small group meets. They might want to be together, but they also might enjoy the space to relate to those in different stages of life. (They may be tired of each other!)

Along with this, some singles feel incredible pressure to live together as roommates just because they’re single. Sometimes, they want to and that’s great. But, as unorthodox as it sounds, maybe living together isn’t the best option after all. Singles need a safe space to voice that. 

After all, few people in Western culture would expect two people to marry and be compatible if they hardly knew each other. So, why do we expect those of us who are single to be more relationally adaptable than those of us who are married?

#5

A friend was called overseas. Some of her teammates seemed to take her calling as a coupon for free babysitting. (This has not happened to me, but it is an unfortunate reality for some.)

Unless they have agreed to be a nanny, singles are not babysitters. Oh, they might babysit and love babysitting too. But they shouldn’t carry the load of raising someone else’s children. That’s not why they’re there. Ideally, singles are ready for mutual service, not a lopsided “you-have-more-time-than-I” guilt trip. 

#6

Speaking of time, while a husband is filling out financial reports, fixing the leaky faucet, and sorting out visa paperwork, or a wife is cooking, scrubbing the floors, and doing laundry, the singles are doing all of that themselves. There is no division of labor. Fortunately for singles, the tasks tend to be on a smaller scale, but they still must be done and no one shares the load. 

Well, I could continue to write about the bad–the local men who want to marry you, a entire week of horrid leftovers, etc. But I think this is enough rambling for one day. I won’t strand you here forever in this pathetic lament. There is an upside to nearly everything and that is what I’ll write about next time. Promise.

Ode to Marriage

The rain is banging against the tarp, filling the concrete house with a dull roar. Just the sound of it causes my bones to shiver. I promised myself a cup of coffee as long as I diligently planned the week’s English lessons. Then I opened a blank document and forgot my promise.

There is something about having a sheet of white on my screen that makes my fingers want fill it up with random thoughts. This time my random thoughts are about marriage.

What do I know about marriage? Very little since I’ve been single for nearly 30 years. Yet, being in a culture that points to marriage as necessary for one’s spiritual journey makes me contemplate this more than I would were I still in the States.

In one perspective, life begins at marriage. The unspoken idea is that one cannot be happy unless they have a significant other.

Then there is the perspective that life ends at marriage. Think about how countless movies and books end with a couple finally realizing that they are right for each other. Why do the books and movies end there?

And then, even more real to me in this culture is the perspective that once a woman is married, she becomes her husband’s servant and is bound to her home. Her only joy after marriage is having children.

At times, I’m envious of married couples who step into this new world together and get to experience things as a unit rather as individuals.

To me, that’s one of the most beautiful things of marriage: companionship. I told my classmate my thoughts and she looked at her husband and smiled: “Yes, that’s true. But once you’re married, you don’t DO as much!”

I suppose there’s a flip-side to everything. That’s why I won’t stress out about my marital status. The preparation for anything is in seeking God’s face.

These are my disconnected, rainy day thoughts.