Vignettes on Aging – The Gift

In spite of what we may feel physically and mentally, many elders are proclaiming:

Old age is a gift.

Old age allows us to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. A majority of older adults say, “I am now, for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be,” which is a sentiment I have felt as well.

We’re not talking about decreasing hearing or eyesight or wrinkles and thinning hair. We’re not proclaiming that our sagging butts represent the best of ourselves, not by a long shot. For me, my sagging butt is not even in the equation, not a part of what is the best of me. It just is.

Gone is the care about what others think of us. Gone are our efforts to win someone over – they either like us or not. Gone too is the need to lead or convince or prove or contradict or be heard. Old age can be our quiet space where the time is ripe for others to speak. We can listen. Notice, I’m not saying we need to agree with others. And, when it’s important, we can use our voices for the good of ourselves and for others but not for the trivial or unimportant.

I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometime despair over my body – the wrinkles, the baggy eyes and thinning hair. And often I am taken aback by that old person that lives in my mirror, but I don’t agonize over those things for long.

I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, my loving family, or my relative health for less white hair or a flatter belly. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more kind to and less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend. I don’t chide myself for eating that extra cookie … or more. I am entitled to overeat occasionally, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

I will walk the beach in a swim suit that is stretched over a bulging body and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the bikini set. They, too, will get old one day.

I know I am sometimes forgetful. But there again, some of life is just as well forgotten and I eventually remember the important things. Sure, over the years, my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turn white and to have my youthful laughs be forever etched into deep grooves on my face.

So many have never laughed and so many have died before their hair could turn silver. I can say “no” and mean it. I can say “yes” and mean it. As you get older, it is easier to be positive. You care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve even earned the right to be wrong.

I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been, or worrying about what will be.

Yes, being old sets us free. It allows us to have a treat, be extravagant, want and consume dessert, a drink, or popcorn for dinner. It allows us to sleep in, to skip the party, or to take a cooking class even though we gave up our kitchens when we moved into the senior-living community. We can fall in love or take up a new craft or stay home by ourselves on Christmas Eve.

We are not going to be here forever. Now is the time to make the best use of our time … for ourselves. As I have said here for years, these might just be the best years of our life. Each of us has the power to make them so, regardless of what else in happening around us.