I’m not a sound sleeper. The question each night is not whether I’ll wake up, but whether I’ll be able to get back to sleep once I do. Some restless nights my eyes open and my mind immediately begins flitting from topic to topic like a fickle honeybee. I think about getting older, and about the unsettling physical changes than come with age. But it’s not just the physical signs of advancing age that are unnerving. You reach a certain age and realize that just as you’re beginning to perfect your swing, it’s time to get out of the way and let the next generation have its turn at bat. And you’re apt to feel the slightest bit disheartened about how few points you’ve put up on the scoreboard.
Lately, my nighttime mind also works overtime about how to help an elderly friend who is struggling with serious health issues, meager resources, and an increasingly untenable living situation. My parents died young and quickly, and up to now the only aging friends close to me have lived prosperous, sociable lives in assisted living communities or with the help of their families. For the first time, I’m confronted with some very stark realities: What does become of those with no family, few close friends, and little money when the scrappy independence on which they’ve pinned their retirement hopes is slipping away from them?
Many women I know admit to “bag lady” fantasies, fears of being left alone and impoverished in old age, of simply dropping out of sight without being missed. My friend’s situation has awakened that fear in me – the fear of not having enough money saved, but more worryingly of aloneness. For some reason, the solitude that can be so delicious when we’re young and strong becomes dreadful to contemplate for our old age. In fact, researchers now believe that loneliness might be a more significant health factor than obesity, smoking, exercise or nutrition.
Until I reached my fifties, these weren’t the worries that kept me awake nights. My fears generally had to do with dying, unknown, before I’d achieved any of my goals, less a “has-been” than a “never-was.” These worldly, Capricornian fears are real, and they reflect a society that tells us our worth is based on our productivity. But bag lady fantasies are Cancerian fears of estrangement from something I’ve long taken for granted, and now realize is a tremendous gift – a nourishing root system.
Embarking on a new year as the Sun travels arm-in-arm with Saturn in Capricorn, it’s time to make serious resolutions and confront our nighttime phantoms. Are you afraid of being alone? Tap into the family ties, and even the geographical landmarks, that center you and make you feel safe and connected. Do you fear dying without leaving your mark on the world? Think about the people who have meant the most to you, and you’ll probably realize that making a real difference to one person can be a much more powerful legacy than being a darling of the tabloids.
Few of us are completely free from fear or worry in these difficult times. Cancerian fears about home and security and Capricorn worries about status and career are perhaps the most pervasive of all. But the Cancer/Capricorn polarity also offers a strategy for solace and growth, and for staying anchored in the rough waters of hard times. If you feel lonely and vulnerable, find the taproot that sustains you—often family, pets, and close friends—and nurture it with all the love and attention you can muster. And rather than dwelling on lost status, squandered youth, or accolades that may never be yours, focus instead on lending support to those who need your attention, affection, and wisdom—and on what you have to offer a world that needs the unique gifts that are yours alone to give.