It’s sobering, that sudden realization that more years lie behind you than before. Just about the time you’ve made peace with reaching middle age, your children announce that you have long since tipped over into senior adulthood.
The phenomenon of aging claims its own field of study. Yet no matter how gerentologically-literate people become, the baffling, bewildering complexities of growing older continue to take everyone by surprise.
Here’s the thing – a person’s outside ages more quickly than the inside. It is possible to accumulate decades of experience and wisdom and still retain a youthful inner core. Joy, excitement, thirst for adventure, thrill of learning and zest for living are not quenched by aching joints and creaky knees.
Firmly entrenched in my sixties, I have launched five kids into productive adulthood and now revel in the role of grandmother to their fourteen children. Still, every time I glance into a mirror I continue to be startled by the old lady peering back at me.
Recently my grandsons pulled me outside to shoot baskets in the driveway. I played basketball in high school and college. The ball’s texture felt comfortably familiar under my fingers. My muscle memory kicked in as soon as I started dribbling. But when I set up to fire off a jump shot, my feet didn’t leave the ground. My feet wouldn’t leave the ground! I told them to, but they wouldn’t do it. COULDN’T do it.
“I’m old,” I realized. Admitted. Conceded. My body has become too old for jump shots and running bases and 100-yard sprints.
That hurts. I enjoyed all those things, so much. But those activities never comprised the sum total of my life experiences. They never defined me.
On my 50th birthday, I decided that in every coming year I would try at least one new thing, something I had never done before. On that day I got a tattoo. In the years since then, I’ve gone on motorcycle cross country trips; started a blog; played in a 3-on-3 volleyball tournament; finished a master’s degree; started my own photography business. There’s so much to do and learn and see! My bucket list will outlast me by decades.
Some people claim that graceful aging is an art. If by “graceful” they mean accepting the body’s physiological changes without perpetual whining, without bemoaning what has been lost, without chafing against the imposition of physical limitations, then there is no “art” to it. One’s attitude toward senior adulthood boils down to deliberate choice. I choose not to wallow in self-pity and reminders of loss. I choose to face forward, embracing the wonder, the beauty, the relationships, the opportunities and the FUN that God makes available to us in this world. I choose to surround myself with people who thrive on love. True, I’m no longer physically able to do many of the things I enjoy. But there’s still plenty of music and laughter to fill my heart with joy. I may be old, but I choose to LIVE as long and loud as I can for every moment that yet lies before me.
Last summer my 6-year old grandson swam across the pool to tread water in front of me. I reached out to hold him close and planted a kiss on his dripping forehead. “Monie,” he said with serious eyes, “you look better in Monie clothes than in swimming clothes.”
Struggling to swallow laughter, I answered, “That’s what happens when you get old.”
“Okay,” he said and splashed away. I stayed in the pool and kept swimming. A child’s perception in no way diminished my happiness, because I love to swim.
In my dotage I have come to realize that joy depends on me. God has made it abundantly accessible in every aspect of my life, but it’s up to me to seize or reject it. A life filled with purpose, meaning and satisfaction is mine for the taking.
I have learned, slowly, painfully, not to take personally any casual remarks that sound offensive but were not meant to offend. Such freedom, to let them slide off my back and never think of them again!
I have learned to keep my hackles in check and listen first when someone says something inflammatory or rude. Keeping quiet, resisting the impulse to leap into confrontation, gives me a chance to glimpse that person’s heart and recognize the hurt or frustration behind the words. Instead of responding, “How dare you,” I can offer gently, “Sounds like you’ve had a rough day.” These are skills I lacked in youth.
The Apostle Paul said, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6).
Grace and salt. That is a good summary of this stage in my life. The salt is all the cherished pastimes and unexplored opportunities that infuse my days with joy and satisfaction. Grace provides boundaries of gentleness and wisdom forged from decades of life lessons. This is the reward of facing forward, of embracing this moment in my story. When I look back, I do so with acceptance and gratitude rather than regret. My past is a fact of my life and has molded me into the person I have become, but I no longer live there. To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther, “Here I stand.” And I’m glad to be here.