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What Getting Older Is Really Like

This aging thing takes you by surprise. You hear of it, you read about it. You know it’ll happen, just not the way it really does, all at once. Of course you know in the abstract, you just don’t really know. You don’t understand how it’ll unfold, don’t expect these ongoing losses.

When we are younger we don’t fully get that we are part of this cycle, too, that we will grow older too.  Somehow we think in our thirties and forties that everything will stay the way it is, forever or at least until we cease to exist. We don’t expect this public dismantling of our physical being.

I wasn’t afraid of aging. I welcomed it…because I “knew” that I’d be the same me, just older and wiser…. on the inside! Nothing prepared me for all this evidence of gravity on the outside, this decline in every area.

We look at our parents or grandparents and they seem to have always been that way, permanently old or middle aged. Their white or grey hair seems intentional somehow, a style choice, along with their thickening waist and protruding bellies. We think they brought it on themselves. They didn’t watch what they ate, didn’t exercise. They hadn’t taken care of themselves. They chose to be that way: soft, flabby, slow, old, not straight and energetic.

We think that they do everything in a dawdling manner on purpose….to annoy us. They don’t care about speed or grace. They choose not to stand up straight, or hold in their stomachs.

They choose to drive slow and don’t know where they want to go. They don’t keep up on purpose, can’t figure out that smart phone or laptop; some secret inside joke to irritate the heck out of us.

They pretend to have less energy. They can’t keep up in the gym. They take forever to get out of the car. We get so impatient and think they just need to stop acting old!

We believe that we can preserve our youth and health if we just eat right, keep it fit and firm. We assume that things will always be that way, like the real estate market before the crash.

What we don’t see or chose to disregard in our society, is the transformation happening within. The wisdom, the compassion and understanding that comes with many seasons on this earth. As we age, our heart opens up (there are exceptions) and softens to people and experiences that we ignored in our youth or judged not worthy of our attention.

Older people have seen the ups and downs of life, the light and the darkness, gains and losses, betrayals yet also incredible love. As we are pushed through this refining process, we learn the true value of life. It isn’t in things, outward appearances or accomplishments. We come to know, real deep down in the bones know, that it’s the spirit within others that lifts us, empowers us and sustains us. It’s companionship, not cars and houses and stuff, that brings us joy.

Less westernized cultures still recognize this truth. We may think that they are poor, because they lack the possessions and things we take for granted.  In reality they are rich with belonging, true connections and companionship.

May we experience the grace of truly being seen in the eyes of our loved ones while we journey through this place. May we again become a society that values the wisdom and lessons from the elders. May we see with our heart, may we see the spirit of a human being and recognize the truth of this mysterious life, which is that only our connection to each other matters, young or old.

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