On Aging: Window Gazing

One of the things I love best about our house is the windows. There are six large windows in the living room, four on one wall, and two on either side of the fireplace. And, adjacent to this expanse of windows, are sliding doors that lead onto the deck. 

The view from my window this morning

The view from my window this morning

“Set wide the window,” wrote Edith Wharton, “let me drink the day.” I spend a lot of time these days “drinking the day” from these windows. The first thing I do each morning (well, first thing after making the coffee) is grab the remote control and press the Up arrow to raise the blinds on all six windows in the living room. Later in the morning I stand in front of the sliding doors, my face enveloped in the fragrant steam from a hot cup of cinnamon spice or Earl Grey tea. I watch birds flit and flutter at the feeders, I smile at the squirrels chasing each other up and around the many trees scattered across the back-yardish area between the condo’s. I stare up at the tops of those trees, taking in the swaying leaves in summer or the bare branches in winter, etched against skies of blue or gray depending on the season. 

Yesterday my mom talked about how difficult it was for her to get anything done. She still retains, even at 89, the old habit of needing to be “productive”  - for her, it’s the homemaker’s mentality that prods her to cook, clean, straighten up the house, make dinner.  “But I don’t want to do any of it anymore,” she said flatly. “Really, all I want to do is sit on the couch and look out the window.”

Her view is nothing special. The three bedroom ranch houses across the street, all cut from the same mold back in the 1950’s and still sitting precisely on their small lots like neatly placed cookies on a sheet. Over the 50 years she’s been looking out that window, the friends who once lived in those houses have all died. They have been replaced with transient renters or, occasionally, young couples who find this aging neighborhood a good place to purchase a “starter home.” 

Still, she sits on the couch in her living room, her back bolstered by a couple of small pillows, a collection of the catalogs that fill her mailbox each day to leaf through, and looks out the window. She smiles at a squirrel who sits under the pine tree, nibbling away at the handful of peanuts she tosses out the door for him? (her?) each morning. 

Poet Donald Hall writes of window gazing in his beautiful book, Essays After Eighty. “My mother turned ninety in the Connecticut house where she had lived for almost sixty years,” he remembers, "and spent her last decade looking out the window.” Of himself, Hall says: “Today it is January, mid-month, midday, and mid-New Hampshire. I sit in my blue armchair looking out the window. I teeter when I walk, I no longer drive, I look out the window."

As our years expand, our lives seem to narrow accordingly, so that what's important seems to lie very easily in the view outside our window. My mother, once eager for a shopping trip, a lunch out, a walk in the neighborhood, now refuses all those things. I would say it’s the weather, the winter cold, but oh this winter has been so gentle and mild, most days there is no reason to hide from it.

 But I understand how this happens, this drawing inward. Even now, I find myself saying “no” more and more often to things that would take me away from my window, reserving my precious time and energy for things I know I will enrich me - seeing friends, having a (now rare) dinner out at a favorite restaurant, playing music. Even now, here in my room upstairs where my desk sits between two more windows, I feel drawn to those sliding glass doors in the dining room, to the warmth of a new teacup I’ll soon hold between my hands. 

To the window on my little world, the one I know and love best.