The Fine Art Of Getting Older

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying that…“youth is wasted on the young”, which seems to mean that the young waste their youth doing things of little value and those who are mature enough to do meaningful things have little youth remaining to do them.

Of course we know that this quote is only as true as the people it is meant to represent. I am sure there are many young people who have a mature perspective on life and many older folks who are literally wasting their time away.

However, that is not the point, is it? The point is really that most young people have no idea of their own mortality and we can truthfully say that when we were young, we thought we were going to live forever.

During those tumultuous late teens and early twenties, I thought that I wouldn’t make it past 30, which as I grew older became 40 and then that idea was put to bed after having made it that far without checking out.

I am now 65 years old and yet “feel” as if I am still a young man—that is just before I look in the mirror and realize that time is really passing. When I was younger I took every opportunity to check myself out—every reflective surface assured me of who I was and how I thought the world perceived me that day, week, or month. Now I joke with friends that I take one look in the mirror in the morning and carry that image with me all day—as if that is all it takes to assure me that I truly exist.

Some mirrors are unrelenting and highlight every nook, crevice and wrinkle that time has left on my face. It is like there is one person inside peering out at another person looking at himself. The man inside peering out seems so much younger—filled with hope at the same time trying to reconcile the image being flashed back at him. There have been and continue to be, so many instances of me—one reality overlapping another as one dreamscape fades only to reveal a hundred more.

Suffice it to say that it is amazing at this point to ponder the waning of my life—we all seemingly begin at about the same point and end the same—with all sorts of diversity in between those two points. In between the beginning and the end, we meet at times on the road to find out as Cat Stevens once sung. Flesh and blood is what we share as well and a common ancestry in the Garden—we are all a mixture of this and a little bit of that.

This past Saturday, as I sat in the rocking chair with one of my granddaughters, I was struck by the fact of how different our skin textures were. As the sun shone in on us both, I noticed the highlighted flesh on my hand and was amazed at the somewhat waxy, wrinkled and pale, translucent skin that covered my veins, knuckles and fingers. My granddaughter’s hands were quite the opposite in their smooth, pearly white display—kissable I would say.

There are no instruction manuals given to us when we are born or when we become parents and within certain cultural structures we are more or less on our own learning path as we proceed through life.

Getting older is a process of noticing the changes which is an awareness not unlike looking through a frosted window pane. Change is gradual, not overnight—the longer you go without looking the more frightening it is when you finally take a peek. I am sure this is something that all older people share in—the awareness of aging and the changes that this process brings with it.

And with that awareness comes the dichotomy that I have mentioned previously—that of how one feels on the inside and how one begins to look on the outside—that discrepancy, that difference between actual age and the perception of who we are that we carry in our thoughts and dreams.

As I have grown older, I have come to the awareness that our culture is all about the young and looking good and that there is very little about the waning life that is taught in our churches or schools. I have felt the disrespect that comes from the younger generation who, like we must have been, feel that they have the inside scoop on how things are supposed to be. I have been on both sides and can see the strengths and weaknesses of what I perceive to be a know-it-all attitude. Yet I am a firm believer in the proverb that says, “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety”.

I was reminded last week by that still small voice inside my head that we need to be thankful for all the little things that bless us. From now until that last big “event” we need to be ever mindful of the people that are in our lives. Scripture says that it is the blessings of the Lord that make one rich and I know that most of us would like a little more money in our pockets. Instead of this being a monetary thing, I think that this type of blessing is an enrichment of our souls.

Indeed, these last days, however many they may be, can and should be the best of our lives. What is wasted on the young is this perspective that begins to acknowledge the eternal while yet living in the present. These states of being overlap with a fulness that can only be expressed through being thankful and living each day with the understanding that this life is only a part of the bigger picture.

And that is a part of the long ride that we are all on.

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