Well, it happened. I did not think it would but it did. I got old. You laugh. Doesn’t everybody, unless they meet their maker early? Yes, I knew it and you knew it, but be honest, you never really thought it would happen either, did you?
Oh, we knew the birthdays were coming and going, but they took their own sweet time, lulling us into a false sense of youth. We lay in the sun and heard dire warnings about wrinkles (we were born pre-sunscreen) and only laughed while pouring on more Coppertone tanning oil. Our oily, wrinkle-free skin was invincible as were our young, energetic bodies.
We knew our parents and grandparents were once young, but there is a deficiency in the young brain. The inevitable aging process does not sink in until it literally does sink in, somewhere around the age of 35. There is some variation depending on marital and parental status. For instance, a single 30-year-old female feels much older than her married counterpart. If the married 30-year-old wants children but is unable to have them, she begins to feel old while the 30-year-old career woman is still tempted to think she has all the time in the world. As for men, I’m not one, but I have brothers; two married with kids and one single in his forties. It seems from family conversations, that the forties have hit him harder than us, although we have not passed unscathed.
Out of six kids in my family, all but two have hit 50. Those of you in the sixth or higher decades may laugh—only fifty? Just you wait, you say. But you see, it’s no longer necessary to tell us that. We know very well what comes next. It’s only those in their teens and twenties that live with a false sense of eternal youth. Looking back, it’s ironic to think of all those years as kids when we could not wait to get one year older. Now, we hang onto the years with all we’ve got. Some of us go kicking and screaming or at least invest in plastic surgery to stave off nature and reality. Exercise and vitamins also go a long way to helping us hang on to what we still have and work at aging gracefully.
“Aging gracefully.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean the spirit of acceptance and joy at whatever age a birth certificate attests to? Or does it mean keeping yourself in shape and not sinking to fuddy-duddy fashion lows. For sure it does not mean wearing way too much orange-tinted foundation and squeezing into outfits meant for younger bodies or for men: still wearing Speedo swim suits and combing long hairs over bald spots.
As an aging baby-boomer, I find myself to be a bit of an oddball. At fifty-three, my oldest son is twenty-seven. Other parents of kids that old, are slipping into pre-retirement, learning to enjoy empty nests, hanging with others in their same state of life and some even welcoming grandchildren. Not me. I’ve also got an 8-year-old. There are plenty of women who had children later in life and are enjoying motherhood with a mature, self-assured attitude. In spite of the confidence, they still cover their gray because, after all, who wants to stand out at the various parents’ gatherings for school and sports. Since I started relatively early, (twenty-six) and had seven more until age forty-four, I’m experiencing many stages all at once. It makes me feel old and young all at the same time depending which group of parents I’m with. Most mothers of young adults don’t still go sledding and read children’s books. Likewise, most young children don’t visit their big brothers’ apartments. But I digress…getting old is the subject we are talking about. Although having children later in life has scientific studies to attest to the fact that the aging process is actually slowed, it never does stop completely and certainly does not reverse itself.
Looking in the mirror, the old us has been replaced by ones only vaguely familiar, with graying roots and features at least a half an inch lower than we like to recall. And yet, we have reached an important stage in life. We will never again be or look young. Even plastic surgery cannot rejuvenate organs. Youth is gone. But wisdom is beginning to creep up.
We can look back at the things that once caused us stress and realize we survived. Much of life’s stresses are merely transitory and often worldly. Even the serious tragedies and losses soften with time. Night feedings and diaper changes were once the stuff that overwhelmed us. Now, we know better. Teen years and beyond make a few diapers and shrill wake-up calls mere child’s play. If only we knew then what we know now, we would have relaxed more and fretted less. And so, that’s exactly what we can start doing.
The things of this world are indeed passing. We understand that better. Our skin did wrinkle and our bodies did slow down. As we age, we begin to step closer to the day when our time on this earth will be up. People die every day, from birth on, but as we reach 40, 50, 60…well, you just know the odds begin working against us—or for us depending on your outlook.
When we were young, our perspectives were not as clear as they are now. After all, we were so “out-of-it” that aging only seemed like something older people did. Today, we know the score. We’ve experienced life and very possibly death. And those that have not experienced death, have looked it in the eye even if only through a medical scare in ourselves or loved ones.
Either we learned that money did not buy happiness or we learned we were not meant to have a lot of it so we should be happy with what we do have. Getting older, we learned that friendships and loved ones are important and should not be taken for granted. We learned that love is always better than hate. Hopefully we learned that even if we never become rich, powerful or famous, we can make a difference in this world, whether in big ways or small.
We now understand that we do not have to prove anything to the world. In the end, life is between us and God. If we were religious to begin with, it makes more sense than ever at this point. If we ran from religion, we can stop now. It’s too tiring to run anymore and once we let him, God catches up with us right away. So, our bodies slow but our spirits grow. It is the one part of us that can keep getting stronger; there is no age-induced decline for spirits.
Our wisdom helps us reach out and hang onto the important things. We have learned to be more careful in our relationships. Some have stood the test of time, others have been lost and some are injured. Either we’ve mended the damaged relationships because we realize life is short, or we lack peace because we realize the same. Stubbornness and anger can stop us from acting on our wisdom, but it cannot take it away. Wisdom is a gift, but it can haunt us if we try to ignore it.
We tend not to sweat the small stuff as much and handle the big stuff with more grace. We still say thoughtless things, burn dinner, and repeat mistakes. But we either do it less or at least recognize a pattern. Even with age, perfection eludes us. All those things we wanted to improve in ourselves in our twenties, still may be on-going. But we have experience to draw on and live better.
Would I like to be twenty or thirty again? No. Who would? Been there, done that. Sure I wish I had some “do-overs” on a few things, but who wants to live through it all again? Some of us really just want our faces and bodies back or a guarantee of more time. But there never were any guarantees to begin with, and through the eyes of wisdom we begin to see that clearly. All we have for sure is today, and of course we always have our Creator. Age makes life so clear. Thus, along with wisdom our age gives us freedom; the freedom of the here and now. We can’t change the past or control the future, but we can embrace the moment. We always could, but we were just too young and foolish to realize that before.