Growing Old is a Good Thing

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I recently had a birthday. Turning 41 isn’t normally seen as a big landmark year. They don’t sell black birthday cake candles that have “41” stamped on them, and since I avoided any over-the-hill party last year I think I’m safe from that. This birthday did make me think, though, about how our culture handles aging.

At 41, fewer people are asking me how old I am. The number of brave souls who ask for that information is still higher than those who ask my weight (maybe that will be a future topic if I get wise enough), but it is dropping precipitously.

Our American culture is very future-oriented. We spend a lot of focus on educating our children, our babies even, to prepare them for their tomorrows. We arrive at appointments on time if not early, because we plan for them and stop whatever we are doing when it’s time to leave for the appointment. We plan, we save, and we set goals. We allow our tomorrows to shape our todays.

Not all cultures are like this. Some cultures live in the present. Grocery shopping is done several times a week, and the refrigerators are small because having food for today is good enough. Fresh is valued over canned or frozen. There aren’t many clocks around because who needs them? What is happening now is more important than the event coming up an hour from now. That event will be dealt with in an hour when it comes.

Other cultures value the past more. The wisdom of their elders, ancestors even, is valued more than the yet-unfulfilled hope of what their children will one day become. Age is a valued and respected commodity.

So how does all this relate to turning 41? In a culture where the future is more important than the past or even present, our culture tells us there’s something wrong with growing old and having less future in front of us.

“Anti-aging” creams are a staple of the cosmetics industry. “Covers fine lines and wrinkles” is a stock phrase in advertising. Plastic surgery is a common way to fight gravity and its effects. Women are especially targeted, though men do have the option of dying their hair or attempting to cover their baldness.

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But I ask, what is wrong with being old? What is wrong with LOOKING old?

I have a few, luckily not many, friends who haven’t made it to 41. Frankly, I’m glad to be alive. I’m thankful that I’m still able to walk and talk and think and smell a flower and cuddle a baby and watch my kids grow.

Speaking of kids, mine are getting older and they think that is wonderful. They love birthdays, and only part of that enthusiasm is because of the presents. I think it is wonderful too. Nobody wakes me up 3 times every night crying to be fed. They can dress themselves and even sort their own laundry. They make their own breakfast and lunch and even occasionally dinner. Everyone assumes that is a good thing, and it is.images

So why isn’t it good for all of us to age? Why don’t we celebrate each year like the children do? I don’t mean we should rent a bouncy house and invite our friends over, but why aren’t we excited about what is to come in the next year?

Perhaps it’s because we’re scared to death of death. Yes, I just used the “d” word. Don’t get me wrong; I like life. I want to squeeze as much out of my time here as I can, and the more time I have, the more I can do. However, if I dread death so much that I also dread aging, I will allow it to negatively affect the time I do have left.

So I am glad to grow older. Not only is the alternative a lot less desirable, but with each year I am a better version of myself. I learn and cope and thrive and live. My hair will turn silver, then white, and I will let it. Each of those silver strands is evidence that I am growing older and better, wiser and more knowledgable. Why wouldn’t I want people to see that?

This past year I chose a few things I wanted to learn about. For the first time in a while, the subjects weren’t related to educating my children or the proper care of a baby. They were things that I had always wanted to learn but I had assumed that the learning phase was finished because I’m not a youngster any more. But I’ve realized that I have a lot of life left. And yes, I’m planning and goal-setting and all of those American things, but I’ve adjusted my thinking to look forward to the golden years and make the most of them.

Will you join me on the journey?

 


Dear Myself, Teen Edition

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Dear Teen Self,

You are a great girl, an amazing creation of God, and you’re doing just fine.  However, there are a few things you should know. You would do well to listen.

Clothes.  It doesn’t really matter what brand your clothes are or whether they came from the mall or Goodwill.  When I just googled (that’s a long story, but just take my word for it that when you want to know something you “google” it) “Top Cool Clothing Brands” it sent me here.  “Guess”, the brand everybody who is anybody is currently wearing, will be #34 on the Best Clothing Brands list behind something called “Wet Seal” and “Pink+Dolphin”.  Oh, and there are 2 companies who ironically sell clothing using ads of people who don’t have nearly enough clothing on: “Abercrombie & Fitch” (#1) and “Victoria’s Secret”(#11).  Nike and Adidas, however, are still the thing.  Swatch watches are still around, but unrecognizable and boring, and Coke rugby shirts or Hypercolor shirts are only available on eBay now (another long story, but basically you can buy almost anything on eBay that ever existed, including clothes that are long recognized as overpriced or generally silly).  “Units” clothes aren’t even available on eBay, which means they are even more obsolete than fossils (which are available on eBay).  So basically, my point is to stop stressing about the clothes you don’t have the money to buy.  Nobody will remember you for that anyway.  Dress modestly, neatly, and how YOU want to dress as opposed to the latest hot thing.

Guys.  Now that is an important topic to you!  Stop stressing about whether someone special will ever love you.  Since you don’t giggle profusely, dress provocatively, or pretend to be generally stupid, the majority of guys your age aren’t mature enough to recognize your attractiveness.  Those guys, who you so badly want to like you?  Many of them will marry shallow, silly girls and end up experiencing heartbreak at their hands.  Don’t be angry at them, for they have a hard road ahead to walk. The smart guys will wait until the time is actually appropriate to get into relationships, and then they’ll marry girls a lot like you.  So, if nobody is madly in love with you when you’re 15, that’s actually a good thing.  You will find a guy who, though not at all perfect, is perfect for you. He will appreciate your smarts and your talents and even your little quirks.  You will laugh and love and live, and generally be happy.  Relax.  It will happen.

Looks.  Your body is changing, and you don’t know how you’ll end up.  You currently are a not pear-shaped, or apple-shaped, as women are usually classified; you are string-bean-shaped.  But you’ll have 5 kids and your body will change, morph, settle, and change again.  Get used to it.  Each stage as a woman is amazing.  It is a wonderful creation, your body, so be okay in it and don’t worry about what it looks like, because honey, just when you get used to it, it’ll change.

Success.  The people who do best in careers are the very ones who are not popular now.  All those things that make some teens unpopular, like maturity, patience, discipline, smarts, a love of learning, and many other not-the-prom-queen qualities, are the very things that serve you well in the adult world.  The ability to throw a football or shake a pompom?  Not so much. Your geeky friends will become physicians and teachers, professors and bank managers, engineers and physicists, nurses and composers. And you will do just fine, too .

Friends.  Pick friends who are good for you.  Choose friends who you have something in common with, who make good choices, and who think you are okay just the way you are.  Be kind to others and you’ll find that people will be kind to you.  Those that aren’t?  They just showed you that you don’t want to be around them anyway.  There are lots of awesome teens out there who are making good choices, and having fun while doing it.  Seek them out.

Fun.  Have a little.  Don’t be so stressed and self-conscious that you don’t relax. Don’t do things you’ll regret, but also make sure you don’t regret not doing things.  And those geeky kids that the cool people think are so serious and boring?  They have the most fun of all.

Bullying.  If you see someone being bullied, stick up for them.  Period.  In your adult life you will continually be trying to help people who were picked on and rejected in their teen years.  Small kindnesses are so simple to do, yet they can have a profound impact on a person’s life.

Parents.  Though they seem totally uncool, and they act oblivious to all rules of teen behavior, they are smarter than you think.  They have loved and laughed and been through every single one of the things you are now going through.  And since your parents are in the ministry, they have been exposed to more situations than you could ever even think of.  That guy you think is amazing who won’t pay you any attention?  They could help you deal with that . Trouble with a teacher? Yep.  Need help with time management ? Yep. College and career decisions? Definitely. That suicidal friend?  Yeah, they could especially help you with that one.   God has given you 2 amazing people who love you more than anyone else in the world does, and you would be doing well to use that resource.

So basically, relax.  Have fun.  Be okay with who you are, because who you are is a creation of the Almighty, and He doesn’t make trash.

Oh, and that money you have invested in your first-ever stock purchase, namely Wal-Mart?  Yeah, you really want to switch that to a company called Apple Computers.

Sincerely,

Middle-aged Self