“Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.”
- Jennifer Yane
As you grow older, what’s inside you doesn’t change but your body changes, and it’s confusing to look in the mirror.
If you live your life as though you are a perpetual image contestant, your age is eventually going to horrify you. To look incredible in youth is no accomplishment, but to look incredible after 45 or 60 or 70, takes both wisdom and skill. Just to age without desperation in today’s society is mastery.
One day we wake up and it is as if we have aged overnight. Charles C. Colson once said that the excesses of youth are checks written against our age payable with interest thirty years later. Suddenly all the things our mothers told us would happen if we ate sugar, tanned, smoked, dated the wrong people and failed to say our prayers at night come home to us. Our skin seems to be changing from a beautiful smooth canvas to something that resembles a wrinkled dish rag, svelte curves are replaced by tacky bulges and health problems show up like uninvited relatives.
My Grandmother was 103 years old when she died. In her youth she was a stunning redhead with hair all the way down her back. She had eleven children, three of whom died very young, and her life was filled with unspeakable hardships.
Still, I never knew a woman who prayed more or complained less. Until fifteen or so years before her death, her vocation was what she called “taking care of old people.” Every day she left her house and cared for the elderly. Then she went home, did her housework and spent the rest of the evening either doing ministry work or quietly at home. Her hair was completely white and her face bore many wrinkles, but it was never without a smile and love poured forth from her to other people. In the nursing home when she could no longer see to hold a crochet hook, she would sit quietly and crochet doll clothes without one, using fingers gnarled with arthritis, to donate to children who had no toys. She refused to live without giving.
At her funeral, the eulogy was half over before all the flowers had been carried in. To those who knew her, she never lost her beauty, it just moved from her face to her heart.
Though it’s true that our appearance changes as we age, we also become more of who we really are and less of who everyone thinks we should be. We become more real. Margery Williams wrote in The Velveteen Rabbit that “generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Maybe our fear of aging is really fear of other people’s reaction to our age and the changes in our physical appearance. Maybe it is the fear that we will have to face our unfulfilled dreams. Maybe we know we have not given of ourselves as we should and we fear the lonely consequences showing up at the end of our lives when it is too late to make changes. Maybe it is the fear of helplessness because of our physical limitations.
The remedy for the fear of aging is joy and thankfulness for the moment. Be thankful for whomever and whatever is in your life now that is good. Someone somewhere will die today. If it’s not you, you have another day to be thankful. As we move our thoughts from negativity to thankfulness, we move from fear into joy.
“There is always a lot to be thankful for if you take the time to look. For example, I’m sitting here thinking how nice it is that wrinkles don’t hurt.” – Author Unknown
Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1
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