Posted by : Bettina | June 21, 2016
How fitting that I should be writing about aging in the first few weeks of entering a new decade. Fitting, maybe, but not a topic I particularly want to dwell on. I still feel young and am still fairly healthy. I only just turned 60 and I am okay with that. Why do I want to think about aging even more?
What is aging anyway? Simply put, it is the process of getting older. More definitively, it is the accumulation of changes that happen to us over time, not just physically, but also psychologically and socially. You may think that this topic does not yet apply to you but most likely you have already begun to age. The human body peaks around age 28, after which it begins its slow decline. Aging, then, is a lifetime process and not just left for the, well, old to experience. Aging is also something we fear no matter how young we may be.
The aging process begins young and so does the battle to stay looking young. The average American woman spends $15,000 on beauty products in her lifetime and billions of dollars are spent yearly on cosmetic procedures, the majority being done on women. Our culture does a terrible disservice to us by placing so much value on our looks. Society is not kind to those with greying hair and wrinkling faces and sagging bodies; instead, holding women from the time they are young to impossible standards of forever clear skin and lithe athletic bodies. I am not above buying products or paying for services to help me look my best. I just paid over a hundred dollars for a haircut and highlights. I know that there are very valid and necessary reasons to have cosmetic surgery but what causes women to be convinced that their looks are so unacceptable or to fear losing them so much that they are willing to invest time and money to change them? Maybe it has to do with our perspective of aging and our fears concerning it.
There are valid reasons to fear aging; increased risk of disease and illness, loss of mobility and independence, the deaths of people close to us, and our own mortality. Still, why such an obsession with holding on to our youth? Do we think by looking young we can stop the years from passing by? Do we think that life stops at a certain age and after that there really is no reason for living? Are we afraid of losing value to others and as long as we can disguise our years we will still be wanted?
When does this fear of getting old begin? In our twenties when we compare our maturing bodies to bikini clad teenagers? In our thirties when our bodies bear stretch marks and worry wrinkles? In our forties when the extra pounds become harder to take off and we need reading glasses to see the fine print? Or in the fifties when we wake with stiff joints? Is it when children leave home or we are passed over for promotions or we no longer know who the latest hot new singer is? There is no age requirement for feeling old, no minimum age for feeling useless.
Growing older has always been bittersweet for me and this decade is no different. I have never been overly obsessed with my looks but I am guilty about worrying what others think of me as my body ages. I, too, fall prey to the lie that looking older means that you are too old to have any value to anyone. I worry about being irrelevant to younger people or not being important to my children, that my life will lack purpose and meaning, and that it will be boring and unfulfilling. I get sad when I think about no longer being able to do the things I love, like skiing or gardening or long walks with a dog by my side. Yet, I need only look at my older friends and siblings to see that life does not stop just because you reach a certain age. I think of my mother who in her eighties still walked, biked or swam every day. She played violin in a community orchestra and loved to dance. She even met a man through a dating service and married him! When arthritis forced her to use a walker, she did not slow down. She still drove, still traveled, and still found joy in each sunset. She was indomitable, living life passionately, no matter her age or circumstances.
Living life with passion, isn’t that the way to live, no matter our age? Fully engaging in the world around us, finding purpose, learning, growing and loving, facing changes with courage and grace. Passion is not just for the young. We can find things to be passionate about even in our final years on earth. There is so much to live for, even when our children grow and our jobs end, when once held so closely dreams become distant memories and when we face the Inevitable losses that the changing years bring. It may be harder to keep passion alive but there are always things to enjoy and people to care for and it is not determined by our looks or even our limitations.
I am now stepping into those years which once seemed so far away and I am finding that what others have said is true, that life does become richer with age. I am more at peace with my life, more secure in who I am, and more confident in my relationships than I have ever been. My life does have purpose and meaning. Yes, there are times when I catch my reflection and wonder who that stranger is staring back at me or when I look at pictures when I was younger and wish I still looked as I did then, but I am also freed from the things that held me prisoner when I was young.
One of the most significant and rewarding things I have done over the last few years is become a mentor to young moms. Mentor is really a misnomer because all I do is show up in their lives, be ridiculously transparent with mine, and encourage them that they will survive toddlers and teens. In turn they keep me thinking young. I am forced to define what my life has been and the lessons I have learned so that I can use my experiences to help them. Gaining perspective on my past is giving me confidence to face my future.
What would I say to these women, if they asked, about aging? Take care of yourself for sure. Slather on that sunscreen and eat healthy foods. Exercise those bodies, not so they can fit into size 4 but that that they can stay strong and limber. Look your best but know that your best is not dependent on how you look. Your best comes from inside you and give that inner self as much attention as your outer one. Anxiety, stress, and fear are not beauty producing but hope and calm and kindness are. Be mindful of what is in your heart. Feed your soul. Pursue your interests. Know your strengths and give yourself grace for your weaknesses. Seek solitude and enjoy time alone. Be friends with your husbands and love your children unconditionally. Cultivate friendships of different ages, older for wisdom and encouragement, younger to keep you fresh and open to new ideas, but, especially, sustain the ones that will carry you through life. I am so thankful for the friends who have seen me at my worst and still love me, who have shared in my deepest joys and toughest trials and who I know will walk with me into old age. Your looks will fade and your bodies will change but these are the things that will keep you young.
It is impossible to bring with me as I age the energy and looks of my youth but I do bring my character, and while I cannot choose whether or not my hair will turn grey, or if I will inherit my mother’s arthritis, I can choose what that character is going to look like. Will I choose to complain about what I don’t have or be grateful for what I do? Put myself first or others? Give up my dreams or create new ones? Believe that I am useless or that I have still have much to offer? Will I choose fear or courage? Will I choose to live with passion? Yes, because I live with the hope of II Corinthians 4:16: We do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. Let the aging begin, I will be ready!
What are you thoughts about aging?
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