Dear Older Self,
When you turned fifty five, you exclaimed at your family birthday party, “I love being 55!” One family member, 30 years younger than you, gasped in surprise, “You do? Really?”
You did love being 55. You loved being 55 because you could look back and see so much grace. You loved it because of the hard won wisdom you had gained. You looked back and saw the healing that had happened in your life and in the lives of many you love. You loved being 55 because you never imagined at 25 how rich your life would be at 55. Your heart was full of gratitude. And joy.
When you were the age of your much younger relative, you would never have thought that being 55 could be something good, blessed and even joyful. But it was, and you embraced it.
I want to say to you, keep embracing! Keep embracing the remarkable journey of living long on this earth. Keep embracing the gift of life. Keep embracing the gifts that come with each day. Keep embracing this new identity of being old.
Listen to me carrying on like a cheerleader. Maybe you do embrace this new identity. Maybe its me, having trouble imagining being older than I already am. Maybe it’s me, at this old age that I am, trying to image being a lot older. I am like the 25 year old family member who was surprised that I was happy to be fifty-five. I seemed too old to her to possibly be happy with my age. I guess you now seem too old to me to imagine you embracing your age without a whole lot of struggle.
Part of what I am seeing is that as you embrace the reality of growing old, it will mean embracing losses. Losses of your own physical strength and health and competencies. Losses of friends and family to illness and death. A loss of familiar roles and ways of contributing. It will mean downsizing and letting go of possessions.
I am imagining that these are the things you are likely to resist. Embracing these realities of aging means opening your heart in grief. It means praying for the humility and courage you will need to stay open to grief and to gratitude in the midst of each change. I don’t imagine any of this will be remotely close to easy.
I know you have listened as elderly family members and friends from the previous generation rejected themselves because they were old. “Who would want to visit me? I am so old and ugly,” one elderly friend moaned. You winced and your heart saddened as you listened to her and to others you loved say such things.
Our culture adds to this rejection and shaming of aging. “Stop Aging Now!” These words caught your attention as you waited in line to buy groceries one day. They were written in bold letters on the cover of a woman’s magazine. These words made the gift of long life sound like a crime.
I don’t want you to see your aging like this. I don’t want you to reject yourself or the amazing gift of growing old. You missed much of your early years of life. You were not very present, not very aware. I don’t want you to miss this final season of life.
When you look in the mirror and are wondering who that old person is looking back at you, know that it is you— it is you wearing your age like a tree wears the rings of its years. Those wrinkles and sags and age spots, that skin that is no longer smooth and tight, that hair that is thinning, that waist that is just a teeny bit bigger and is moving on down toward your knees—all of this is you wearing the story of the gift of all the days and years you have been given. Instead of groaning and looking away, see if you can embrace your body that has served you all these years, see if you can wrap your arms around yourself and love your old self just like you are. See if you can then thank God for each day you have been given.
You know what it is to embrace the adventure of each day. You know how the gift of each day, each year, means more to experience, more to learn, more to receive, more to give, even as there is more and more to let go. You know that life can grow richer in so many ways, even as there is decline.
Your life, including the length of your life, is not in your hands but is held in the tender, powerful hands of Love. Each beat of your heart, each breath drawn, is a glorious miracle. It is a gift, moment by moment, from your Maker. Do your best to receive each day, each moment, as pure gift however frail and vulnerable it may feel at times. God entrusts each day of your life to your care. Entrust each day back to God’s care, with gratitude and wonder.
Let go of your identity as young, as middle age, as newly aging. Embrace your old self.
Embrace the gift it is to grow old. Embrace the gifts it brings. Do this as much as you can, so you can be a gift to others.
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