In a few days I will be traveling to Italy to visit my son and his family. It’s been two long years since we’ve been together.
This morning while washing my face I glanced in the mirror and couldn’t help noticing the changes the years, and gravity, have made in my appearance. I wondered what my loved ones would see upon my arrival in Italy next week. Would they be shocked at how much older I look, or would they see me with the eyes of love and scarcely notice the changes? For just a moment I felt as if I had let them down, somehow, by showing my age.
It’s too bad that there is such pressure in our society today to remain eternally young. If we fail to achieve this impossible goal we are made to feel somehow ashamed of the undisguised evidence of our age.
It is almost impossible not to buy into this foolishness and most of us have to confess to being influenced by it to some degree.
When I first crossed the threshold of middle-age and began to feel the changes in my body I wished for a guidebook or user’s manual, something like Aging for Dummies, that I could consult to know whether each new lump, bump, bag, sag, ache or pain was a symptom to take to the doctor or just another new reality in the natural progression from one life stage to the next. If I had found that book I would have referred to it many times in the ensuing years. Perhaps such a handbook wouldn’t be necessary if we weren’t ashamed to share and compare the signs of normal aging with one another openly.
My mother died a few weeks ago. She would have been 97 if she had lived to her birthday this month. She was blessed with her full mental faculties, and amazingly good health, almost right up to the end. I wish she could have rejoiced in those gifts, but she was so focused on the imprint of all those precious years on her physical appearance that she couldn’t see the blessing. She was ashamed for people to see how old she looked, so she withdrew from everyone but her close family.
While most of us adjust to aging with more resignation than my mother, society makes it difficult for us to embrace advancing age with any enthusiasm.
No matter what the media tell us, old age is not a sign of failure. It is proof of victory. The senior citizens among us are proven survivors. I like to say that anyone can be young … think about it, everyone who has ever been born has been young, but only the lucky few get to be really old. Shouldn’t they revel in that accomplishment?
Age certainly isn’t as pretty and doesn’t have as much energy, excitement or physical strength, but it does have experience, hard-earned wisdom, and, for many, a new-found release from the fears that go hand-in-hand with youth and insecurity.
Most importantly, the passage from youth to old age is part of God’s plan. It is totally natural. We can nip and tuck, inject and cover-up, gulp vitamins and exercise to the point of exhaustion, but age will out. These bodies weren’t meant to last forever. They are recyclable, biodegradable containers to carry our maturing character and spirit into the next great adventure.
I think we should all reject the cult of youth, begin to accept every stage of life for the joy it brings and take pride in each year that passes.
As those wise old Vulcans used to say, “Live long, and prosper”.