Friday, July 8, 2011

The Gifts of Age

I love young people. I feel the same way as Archbishop Desmond Tutu who once said, "I have the highest regard for young people… Young people are idealistic. They dream dreams about a better world."

They not only dream dreams, they have the audacity to believe in those dreams and often enough enthusiasm to nurture them into something close to real life.

I love young people. What fun I could have "back in the day" – ridiculous fun. And what hope. I was changing so quickly and it seemed I could be limited only by my dreams. If I believed it might be possible, I felt I could make it so.

There are tremendous gifts that come with youth. Like optimism and the ability to change. When anything seems possible, more than a little of it becomes possible if one only believes enough and adapts quickly.

And then we age. Please don’t hear a note of discouragement – it’s just that aging is something I am only slowly coming to embrace. It creeps up on a person like silent fog in the night; we awaken one morning in the midst of it and wonder how it got there.

We age, whether we choose to or not. And some people dread it. Singer Doris Day once said, "The really frightening thing about middle age is that you know you'll grow out of it." That fear can be all too real.

Some people dread aging. And some people deny it. They try to avoid the fact that they are growing older and their bodies are in decline. One woman who had ignored her failing eyesight for too long was asked, "How long have you worn glasses?"

"Since yesterday," she replied. "As I was baking some tollhouse cookies I picked up the fly swatter and killed four chocolate chips." Some people deny aging and live as if nothing has changed.

And some people avoid it – or try to. They idealize youth and never become comfortable in their older, looser-fitting skin. One man quipped: "A few years ago my wife started to wear tight jeans. I went out and bought a convertible. Then she bleached her hair. I took a lot of multiple vitamin shots. Just a few months ago, she had a face lift and a "tummy tuck." I got an implant. And that's the way it’s been for the two of us: side by side -- growing young together."

Since age can’t really be avoided, there are those, also, who learn to laugh at it. Humor won’t chase old age away, but laughter certainly makes it more bearable.

A parody of the musical hit "My Favorite Things" is making the rounds among oldsters. The song, inaccurately attributed to Julie Andrews, reminds us that it helps to laugh at what we can’t change.

"Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string;
These are a few of my favorite things…"
You get the idea.

We may try to deny it or avoid it. We may dread it or learn to laugh at it. But unless an accident or illness robs us of the chance to grow old, we’ll all experience it.

Which is okay. For if youth has its gifts, I believe age does, too. When aged well, the idealism of youth is tempered now with solid experience. Youth’s enthusiasm is made more valuable when combined in old age with good judgment. And youth’s ability to become anything they can imagine, in old age takes the form of character; trustworthy and reliable – character so rich only decades of living could ever grow and refine it.

These are the gifts of age. They are gifts found in those who live their lives intentionally and well. They take a lifetime to acquire and they are precious beyond belief. 

-- Steve Goodier


claudine song said...

Steve, what a delightful post! My husband and I are both 'getting younger" but with the wisdom to know what is definatley NOT appropriate at our age, such as hot pants for me, or a tight muscle shirt for him! Thank you for your wonderful emails! Look forward to more!

Steve Goodier said...

Claudine, maybe "getting younger" has more to do with the inside than the outside. If so, I'm all for it!