If I know anything for sure, as I become older, it’s that somewhere along the way, I will need to come to terms with the accumulation of my years, and the losses that come with it.
It must be the departure of summer that has nudged this part of me—the place where I’m acutely aware of the passage of time.
It’s another summer of living, and I’m grateful for that, of being able to savor each sunny day, of living fully into autumn, and then experiencing all of it again through my memories.
Growing older means we’ve lived longer and aged a little more. It means we’ve been given the chance to gain more perspective, maturity and wisdom. These qualities are exactly what we need to support us emotionally and mentally as we experience the changes that inevitably happen to us.
How good are we at this?
These qualities are not guaranteed. Many of us don’t find this part of growing older easy. Yes, we may realize on some level that our senses are not as sharp as they used to be. Failing eyesight and reduced hearing are hard to ignore. But it’s a little easier to shrug off the fact that we can’t walk as far as we used to, or that it takes us so much longer to do some simple tasks and chores.
So we don’t pay attention to these changes—we unconsciously struggle against them. I’ve watched friends and family members maintain that they will never slow down. They hold themselves to a standard of activity they achieved years ago—still jogging and playing tennis when their knees can no longer take the strain, still caring for large houses they refuse to sell, still holding dinner parties for as many people as they can cram into their dining rooms. And most jarring of all, still driving when their eyesight and reflexes have drastically changed.
Our culture encourages this. Some older people go to extremes to prove that they can still skydive, still go white water rafting. A trip in a hot air balloon will guarantee you, if you are 80 years old or more, an article in a national paper, or at the very least a mention on Twitter. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should forgo new adventures as you age, and dwell instead on the fact that your hair has turned white, or that your memory is failing, or that you seem to accomplish less and less every day. And I’m certainly not saying that you should go through the litany of things you can’t do anymore, and make yourself feel depressed or sad.
It takes strength, not weakness, to ‘let go’
But I am saying that it’s healthy to experience a gradual ‘letting go’. It’s realistic and sane to acknowledge the reality of aging for what it is—to start using that cane, if you need it to steady your gait, to prepare your home for decreased mobility, or to even consider giving up your car. To do otherwise would be to leave yourself open to depression, dangerous activity, and unreal expectations for yourself.
If this looks to you like giving up, or caving in, I assure you, it’s not. Instead, it’s the beginning of something new—a new search for things you can do, things you might have tried to do in the past, but didn’t take seriously, things you haven’t even thought of doing, but now have time to try.
This may be the perfect time to rejuvenate a passion you had in the past. It may be the right activity to transport you through the coming years of possible loss of hearing, sight, or physical strength. Finding something you can do, something that your capabilities will allow you to endure, no matter what your health, should be the new and realistic object of your search.
This is how you know that you are wiser
If there’s a message in this anywhere, it would be that slowing down and taking stock can be beneficial. It is a conscious choice, and it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.
As you grow older, you will have become wiser, coming to terms with your losses and limitations, and realizing that the measure of your years is more than what you can do.
Joan Chittister, a guru of aging, says this in The Gift of Years:
“There is an important part of the aging process that lies in simply getting accustomed to being older. Part of being a vigorous older person demands, first of all, that we learn to accept it for what it is, a new and wonderful—but different—stage of life.”