I go from having a spring in my step to groaning as I rise from my chair, from sprawling happily on the floor with grandchildren, to waking at night from an unforgiving shooting pain. A permanent ache in my hips seems to stem from an ancient bike accident, reminding me of my youthful headlong downhill energies, scolding me for heedless days of daring, as though nothing was at stake. I think and rethink all my moves these days – what sort of hike can I do, how long I can weed the garden, can I be on my feet for a 4 hour concert, should I work out on too little sleep, what’s the optimal combination of foods, and what can I get away with? More and more I tend to err on the side of caution and comfort. I reluctantly call on anti-inflammatories, and buy Epsom salts in 20 pound bags. Less exuberance, more triage.
My kids and their friends are Millennial thirty-something year olds, and I’m wistful about no longer having the energy, quick thinking, and passion of my youth. Then I recall the realities, and am glad to be light years away from the struggles of that age – building careers, raising small children, keeping a roof overhead, struggling to find community, ever working toward the future, and eking out rare spare moments for creativity and down time. All at the same time. I cheer these youngish adults on from the sidelines, and am thankful this era is limited to one per customer.
We share the problem of getting enough sleep, though for them, it’s small children or work or stress or carousing that interferes with complete rest. For me, my body has lost its rhythms as hormones, aging and gravity take their toll, and I struggle for solutions, trying out a long list of supposed cures, ever hopeful.
I came to terms with finding my first grey hairs long ago, and went with the flow. Now at 62, I’m shocked to see even my eyebrows are going grey, and that my skin is losing elasticity. Sagging Happens. Perhaps when those changes are complete, when every little thing is grey and drooping and wrinkled, I’ll have accepted those things too. Then I’ll have a new set of aging concerns to grapple with.
I wrestle with aging gracefully and lightly. I remind myself of a couple pieces of aging advice I heard long ago. Sophia Loren said that the way to appear younger is to not make old person sounds as you get up from your chair! Someone else, perhaps Joan Rivers, said that you should be happy every time you look in the mirror because you’re never going to look that good again. Certainly laughing is a powerful anti-aging remedy, one that can be called up in a moment.
I try accept reality, but at the same time try to strengthen my mind and muscles against the inexorable tide. But a youthful spirit is more achievable than trying in vain to maintain a youthful body. I have to fight off apathy and self-absorption, and embrace new experiences and the unknown, maintaining curiosity about the world. I head down new paths with more heed and less recklessness, smarter now in some ways. I subscribe to the theory (because why not?) that older minds may be slower, but that’s because we have more information stored away, and are more sensitive to the smaller details. I’ll take it.
As I observe this slow, still intermittent physical deterioration, I think the rest of me is getting better as I get older, and that has to be good enough. There will always be something new on the horizon, something to appreciate, something that catches my breath with its beauty, something that fills me with reverence.
I’ve been mulling about aging for a while now, and it might be getting me down a bit. Perhaps it’s the third cold this winter, or the new wrist problem that’s keeping me from playing mandolin and lifting weights. Or any of a number of things that are slowing me down to where I almost don’t recognize myself some days. But my latest cold is subsiding, and my wrist is loosening up, and I suddenly remember a child raising philosophy I’ve long adhered to, turning it back to myself.
In my past life as a teacher, mentor, homeschooler, or parent, I frequently came across the anguish over some trait or talent or knowledge that our children weren’t accomplishing or achieving. They aren’t reading yet, they don’t clean their room, they’re on the internet more than I like, will they ever develop empathy, on and on and on. There are so many things our children aren’t doing. We do this to ourselves as well, I’m not playing music well enough, I can’t speak Spanish, I’m not thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough, on and on and on.
What if we switch it around? What if we say, look at what our children ARE doing, and by extension, look at what we ARE doing. Just starting a list of the things we’re proud of, the things we’ve accomplished, the traits we prize – suddenly everything turns around, and there is a lot to be satisfied about.
So I am turning over a new… mindset, reminding myself of what I can do as a 62 year old, not what I can no longer do, or what I lack. And the next time I make that old lady sound as I get up, gently remind me that I’m still getting up and down, still have things to get up for, and still have places to go.
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,