Wrestling with Angels: On Taking Risks at 65

Do you imagine yourself at some point in the future radically changed in nature? For instance, you have always been a risk-taker, someone who lives life large but always assumed that by the time you hit 65, you’d be careful and serene? There’s nothing wrong with changing our minds about who we are or want to be: to develop aspects of ourselves that have been neglected in the past. At least in theory. But in reality, on the eve of turning 65 next week, in the midst of a big life transition, I am rethinking some key assumptions I’ve held about who I would be at 65.

In brief, my husband Dan, faithful dog Lucky and I are at the tail end of a radical move from our cottage in Los Angeles to live close to our grand-family in Nashville. Now that we’ve arrived, the question is where will we live? On the one hand, there are lovely, turn-key condos in the neighborhood that seem the logical, reasonable choice. Simple, safe, easy. But there’s one problem: none of them make our hearts sing. What does make our hearts sing is a 1930’s stone house fixer-up on the river 10 minutes up the road that would make the kind of demands on us we thought we’d left behind. What if the problems are bigger than anticipated? What if the real estate market goes down again? What if the river floods its banks? Do we take this risk on at our age and stage in life?

We tried to set the house aside. We put an offer in and withdrew it. We resumed our search for the perfect little condo. But the old stone house kept calling to us, first in whispers, then in shouts. “I am much more than just a place to live,” the house cried out. “I am the battlefield upon which angels are fighting in your soul over whether even at 65 you get to take on the risk of going for what you really want?”

Seeking counsel, I picked up one of the few books that I carried with me across country in my suitcase: “The Gift of Years” by Joan Chittister. I opened at random and began to read: “Abandoning life before life is over is not just resignation: it is not trying to reach for God on God’s terms.”

I understood immediately what Joan and the house were saying to me. We’d taken the risk of moving across country. And now, once arrived, we have to decide if we’re going to live safe or continue to live life as fully as possible. I can argue with God all I want, the moment we found this house, I realized that I’d been hoarding all my aspirational resources about aging, as if the pot were limited and all there is ahead of me is self-protection and diminishment. I realize now that to truly live one’s life fully means inviting risk back in. In our case it was the old stone house. For others, it’s leaving a stale job, traveling alone, hiking in the woods—even if at a somewhat slower pace–or taking on a new relationship. Others may even find that it is a turn-key condo that is calling to them: the choice that for them represents growth and renewed life. Whatever it is for you, there will come a moment when the stakes get raised and just when one would like to lie down and pull the blankets over her head, one is rather being called back into the fray.

To make a long story short, we put the offer back on the house which was accepted yesterday. The old stone house on the river now represents a commitment to life lived to the full: a tad foolish, risky, dramatic. In other words, even at 65, I get to be who I have always been. I confess to having had a few sleepless nights, but it was for good purpose: giving myself the opportunity to rise to my new occasion. In accepting this discomfort, rather than seeking protection from angels, I have found myself wrestling with them. But it is a divine wrestle, like Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok at Penuel Ridge. And I will not give up until I wrest God’s blessing. We do, after all, deserve to have our hearts sing to us, even when we turn 65.

Review & Commentary

  • Elaine Edford

    Thank you for having the love and courage to take your dog with you on your new journey. Many people do not and wind up leaving their best friend behind to an unknown fate. Having had my full share of housing disasters in the CA real estate market I don’t think I’d ever opt for a house/mortgage again. However, best of luck in your new venture with your little stone home. Some of us do manage to dodge the meteors life keeps throwing at us and I hope you fare very well indeed.

  • steve

    With all due respect, you really do not have anything to wrestle with. How is this for change, I am 62 al lifelong republican conservative self employed owner of a small business. In th past two years, i have been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, found out my insurance company does not want to pay for my drugs or virtually anything else for that matter, now diagnosed with I think prostate cancer and just told that before the MD will see me I need to bring a check for $2000. I told them I guess it is time to die. I am the only white man I know in this county who is for Obamacare but it will be too late to do me much good.
    At the moment I am depressed, and, no, I do not think you have any real problems!

  • Susan

    Thank you for sharing your story. The inspiration for me is that while you wisely considered practical matters, you ultimately followed your heart. It’s a victory of spiritual strength, trusting in God/the Universe to continue to guide you when you do not know the outcome. Blessings and best wishes to you in your lovely new home.

  • Robert

    My heart aches for Steve, who appears to be wrestling with demons, although I truly pray that it will be angels whom you soon see around you. You didn’t get the chance to ask to take risks. You are just having to face what has fallen on you. May you see a lightening of your burdens, and new hope emerging for you. Thank you for reminding us of what we will all face in our time.

    As for wrestling with angels, I think (!) I believe in it, too. But there always is that risk of walking away with a limp from that day forward, since that is the first result in the Jacob story. But having the courage to wrestle for blessing rather than resignation is surely a critical part of any faithful story. Jacob with his hobbled hip was left all the more vulnerable in the journey toward facing his greater fear–the possibly murderous rage of his brother Esau. Thankfully, life had shown them each that it is not in our rage or power that we find real life. But the willingness to embrace an unexpected grace. Blessing won out over cursing. Every struggle our hearts make toward courageous love is good for everyone. May that be the story of all our lives.

  • Louise Mahood

    Oh Vey, what a reaction to your article! I could offer my woes and sorrows too, but for now, as a retired clergy, at 55 [because I could]. It was a good decision for me.

    I applaud your courage to buy the home that speaks to you. It speaks to adventure before you, using your gifts to build the nest you want, and be elders for your family nearby. You are among the privileged who can buy a home and enjoy the fruits of your skills to fix it up the way you want to do it.

    We in Canada do not loose our housing because of health care issues. Unless of course you choose to get private care which means you use remortgage the house for the health care services. We loose our housing because we loose the skills we once had to run a home. Or we get too forgetful and need to use the services of residential care offers for a price. All privatized and growing industry.

    Better? No. Different.

    What your article says to me is that you are onto a new chapter in life, and ready to stride forth and see what happens next. Way to go. I hope it all works out and if not, well, it is a learning experience.
    And your got your extended family to help if you get into trouble. Perfect plan.

  • Carol Orsborn

    Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. This is, indeed, a new chapter in our lives. So far, so good. By the way, if you’d like to know how I got to what I refer to as “the wild side of midlife”, please note that my memoir “Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn” was published this week and is available on Amazon and elsewhere. Enjoy.