I spend a fair amount of time thinking about getting older. How could I not? The days go by like they are passengers on a speeding freight train, and suddenly I have children in their thirties and almost thirties, and an oldest granddaughter who just turned six. Some days I really do wonder when all that happened, even though I know I’ve been present for it the whole time. I’m not someone who minds being the age I am; I don’t want to give the wrong impression. There is, in fact, something that’s quite nice about recognizing myself as the same person, with the almost identical thoughts and reactions that I’ve always had, but now with the additional layer of solid experience that lends a bit of wisdom to share. As long as I’m healthy, I’d really like to be one of those white-haired pasta granny ladies, still cooking in the kitchen at 102. And yet, there are days when I don’t love what I see in the mirror, and I worry and wonder about growing old gracefully and remaining vital and relevant to everyone who knows me. I certainly believe in the reinvention of the self, at any age, and I’ve done it in big ways and small ones, but lately I’ve felt that I want a mantra that I can put up on my wall that will reassure me that everything and anything still remain possible.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the idea of staying within or moving beyond our comfort zones. By definition, a zone is an area that is delineated by fairly hard edges. In some cases these boundaries do not move at all, while in others they may vary under certain circumstances. Plant hardiness zones are definitely shifting north, for example, and a zone defense in basketball might need to collapse onto one player if he or she happens to break through it. Time zones, on the other hand, have remained rather constant, with the exception of the ongoing debate about daylight savings, but that has very little to do with the zone itself. I think we could say with a high level of certainty that comfort zones tend to shift as we get older, or if we experience some kind of a trauma, with both of these being something we might be willing to work beyond. When I was young, I loved roller coasters; the bigger the better as far as I was concerned, especially if it was one of those wooden ones. Now, they terrify me. At one time I loved to fly, but I had a bad experience on a plane after talking off in a thunderstorm. Needless to say, I am now an apprehensive flyer. Yet I have, on occasion, pushed against these self-set limits in order to experience the momentary thrill of a really good roller coaster or the extended exhilaration that comes from traveling somewhere amazing. In both instances, I have been willing to stretch the edges of my comfort zone.
Many of you who know me well may see me as the consummate Virgo. I am, as the title of this post suggests, a person who finds a great deal of satisfaction in the idea of mastering and then streamlining the process. It’s all about the details for me, at least in the area of my life where I fill my purpose in the world. That’s what a person who has the Sun in Virgo does. While focusing on the particulars can be a highly productive and supremely important thing, it tends to create a head down kind of mentality, and because details are omnipresent, Virgo Suns tend to want to always be churning out large amounts of work. As a consequence, when there are no external specifics to be catalogued, organized, or refined, they turn that same energy inward and can become highly introspective, rattling around in their heads looking for something that needs labeling or color coding. While I raise my hand and say “yes, guilty” to all these things, I also want to offer up the observation that as a society, I think we turn more and more into Virgos every single day. We want to be busy, busy, busy, and if we’re not, we feel like we must be doing something wrong. We’ve lost the ability to find joy in having a day that stretches in front of us without obligation. We do and do and do, to the point that we’ve forgotten how to simply be.
When my children were young, and I was filling their moral toolbox with all the items I thought they’d need one day in order to be good and decent human beings, I had a fairly clear idea of what it meant to ask for forgiveness. To me, the simple utterance of the words “I’m sorry” was never enough. I always stressed the notion that while the act of apologizing was a good place to start, it was impossible to undo the harm or damage that had been inflicted without asking “What can I do to fix this?” or “How can I make this better?” After all these years, I still feel the same way. When I wrote the Moral Skill Set post a few weeks ago, I became enamored with the thought of forgiveness being called an “art” because wording it as such implies that there is craft involved, and by further extension, mastery. It presents a bit of a moral conundrum though, right? In order for us to perfect any craft, we usually need lots of practice, and we certainly don’t want to spend a good bit of time hurting other people so much that we do indeed master this particular art. And yet still the idea intrigued me and left me wondering how I could elaborate on it further.
Gary Chapman is the theologian and relationship counselor responsible for developing the theory of The 5 Love Languages. I read excerpts of his book with great excitement back in 2018 when I was writing my first post on this topic, promptly took the quiz, and immediately became a huge fan of the entire concept. Originally, Dr. Chapman maintained that there were five basic ways in which we give and receive love: words of affirmation, quality time, giving and receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Although we practice all of them at one time or another, we tend to favor one more than the others, and this is considered our primary love language. It’s the expression of love that works best for us, in terms of both giving and receiving. Sometimes more than one will resonate, and so we actually prefer and employ a combination of languages. The quiz is simple to take and very revealing, especially when we have our partners take it too. We quickly learn that if we are someone who prefers acts of service and our significant other favors physical touch, we can do the dishes or fold the laundry until the cows come home, and it won’t ever score us any points. All he or she really wants to do is hold hands. Dr. Chapman believes that these differences in love languages can be the root cause of many relationship problems, and a good number of therapists use his concept as a starting point when counseling couples. It makes perfect sense. Once we understand the love language of our primary person, we can often meet somewhere in the middle and work towards an expression of love that’s more harmonious for both of us.