Dear Older Self,
I know that you will experience growing limitations as you get older. I know because it is already happening. Your energy and strength are not what they once were.
For example, you once worked full weeks at work while keeping up with a busy schedule with family and other activities. But recently you have needed to cut back at work. You once jogged several miles several times a week, but some time ago you had to give up jogging and begin taking brisk walks instead. And your memory that has always served you well is definitely not the same as it once was.
Facing these changes and accepting these limits has not been easy. You have tended to resist the truth about these new limits for some time before coming to a place of acceptance. And your resistance often created needless suffering.
This was true when you were first being told that you needed to give up jogging.You liked jogging. So when your knees began to hurt after jogging, you did not want to pay attention. One of your knees had to swell with injury for you to slow down and realize what was happening. Your injured knee meant that you had to limit even your walking for a while so it could heal. But even then, after the knee healed and you were told your jogging days were over, you tried jogging a few more times, only to injure your knee again. You loved moving fast. You loved being a jogger. It took repeated pain to get you to reluctantly let go of the idea that you would die with your running shoes on.
What I am saying is that embracing new limits has already been a struggle. You have resisted the need to make these adjustments, often to your own peril.
Please keep in mind, as you embrace new limits, that there will be gifts in these changes. Yes, the losses are real. Yes, you need to make room for the sadness that is always a part of letting go. But stay open to the possibility that new gifts might come with the changes.
It turns out that exchanging jogging for brisk walks has brought you unexpected gifts. For starters, your knees no longer bother you. Brilliant! And, you are able to more fully enjoy the beauty that surrounds you as you walk. You even have enough air in your lungs to comment on the beauty aloud to your walking partner. In fact, walking with your spouse has often been a time for great conversations or shared enjoyment of the beauty of the day.
Giving up the idea of being able to jog until the end of your life has also offered you the gift of greater humility. You are not that invincible runner you wish you could be. You are limited to walking, like most people your age. Your body is not somehow immune from these growing limits. Nope. You are one more aging person walking, rather than running, on the treadmills at the gym, while all those younger than you are sprinting along. You are part of the parade of old folks on the path at the park, left in the dust by the occasional youngster who sails by. Humility. It embraces what is real, without shame, sometimes even with humor. And this, dear older self, is already real.
So, be intentional about this. Notice those moments of resistance and pride. Notice when you want to hang onto something you are being wisely told you need to let go of. Pray for a little dose of reasonableness. And a bit of humility. Talk, pray, and write about your resistance to your new limits. Then, try on the new limits. And begin to look for the gifts they might bring. For example, living with new limits can mean that things might become less complicated in your life. There will likely be less pressure coming from you and others to do and go and produce and achieve and work. So, your days might become quieter. You are likely to experience fewer demands on your time and energy. You will probably have more time for reading, having coffee with friends, and naps (don’t forget about the naps!). And you might find more time for pursuing creative endeavors, for learning new things, for acts of service and for activities like prayer and meditation.
As you accept new limits, try to keep in mind how you have witnessed this becoming a source of blessing for the elderly you have known. Think, for instance, about your elderly loved one who had so much difficulty accepting and living with her growing limits. She had a long career as a nurse, caring for others. She knew how to give. But she did not have much skill in the area of receiving. She had been orphaned as a teenager and became self reliant in order to survive. As a result, embracing new limits presented many special challenges for her.
But as she slowly began to embrace new limits, the gifts began to appear. One special memory of the kinds of gifts she began to experience happened on a day you took her to a Southern California amusement park. She was able to walk, but with difficulty due to a hip that needed to be replaced. When you suggested you get her a wheel chair she refused. No way was she going to be pushed around in a wheel chair. Never mind how many people she had done this for in her long years of nursing. But, after some talking, you persuaded her to try it.
It became a joyride. It was a day of laughing every time you were able to go to the front of every line because of the wheel chair. It was a day of ease for her and of less physical pain for her. A day in which she didn’t overdo to the point of exhaustion. A day in which you were given the gift of being able to do this for her. It became a day of shared delight you will always remember.
This is what it means to live with new limits. It is living—aging—with grace.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com