Oh, what an ironic example of our society’s attitude toward aging.
And oh, how I wish I were making it up.
Excuse me while I point out something that everybody knows but nobody really wants to think about:
All of us will grow old.
Well, except those of us who won’t.
I’ve had two college-aged students diagnosed with cancer. And I just found out about yet another high school classmate who died before the age of 40.
You know what I’ve decided? A long life is a privilege, not a punishment.
But I don’t want to oversimplify. I’m very concerned about the quality of my life as I grow older, and I’m not looking forward to the inevitable physical changes. To be completely honest, I’m already seeing some changes I’m not thrilled about, and I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities and whether there’s still time for a second chance.
As Lewis Richmond points out in Aging as a Spiritual Practice, we all have fears “of death, illness, losing one’s mind, losing one’s livelihood.”
Becoming mindful of our own aging process forces us to pay attention to our mortality and our disappointments, but it can also be an opportunity to pay attention to our accomplishments and to prioritize how we want to spend the remainder of our lives. We need to be willing to let go of our (possibly idealized) younger self and embrace who we are now.
The key, Richmond says, is figuring out how to adapt to change rather than responding with denial or brooding. We need to “reflect on the meaning of all that we have done and the kind of person we have become and still want to be.”
This means figuring out both what brings us joy and how we can be of service to others. Most of us don’t live in traditional villages where there’s a built-in role for elders as advisors to the next generation of leaders. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for elders, but we may need to create it ourselves. Reading Aging as a Spiritual Practice could be an excellent place to start.
In my grandparents’ retirement community, the more able-bodied residents volunteer to serve meals to the more infirm. They feel good about helping others, and they know that when their turn comes, there will be someone to help them.
A good model for the privileged retirees I mentioned in the first paragraph.
And for us all.
True Refuge (recommended book)
Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (recommended book)
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