Friday, December 13, 2013

sunrise, sunset

I’m a little worried about getting older. When I think about it, I feel sad.

This is silly, I tell myself. Growing old is a privilege. It’s a gift. Why feel sad about it?





In every previous stage of my life, I looked forward to the next one. When I was six, I wanted to be seven. When I was ten, I sat in church and realized that in the year 2000 I’d be twenty-five and probably (hopefully! eek!) married. When I was 20, I looked forward to adventure and babies. When I was 30, I looked forward to babies not being babies and making a garden and homeschooling and turning our new-old country house into a home.

And now I am 38 and I have never been happier. I’m in the thick of family suppers and every-bed-is-full and piles of picture books and art projects, and stinky, dirty shoes of all sizes piled by the back door. We have each other. We have energy. We have ideas and opinions and dreams. We have work. We have friends and money and space to call our own. We have life. It’s all I ever dreamed of and then some.

But.

The children will leave. The dreams will dissolve into memories. Our health will fade. We will slow and eventually stop.

This is silly, you say. Why whine and moan when everything is just fine? No need to make a mountain out of the molehill.

But, I say, don’t you see? I’ve been improving—physically and mentally—all my life. But that improvement won't continue on forever. My mind will trip. My body will hurt. I will die.

I have always looked forward to the next stage of life. This time, I’m not so sure I want what’s next.
















I try to be logical.

1. Every stage has been better than the one before. Trust the track record.

2. Each life stage—childhood, teenager, young adult, new parent—has had its share of angst and turmoil. In each stage, something is lost and something is gained. Getting old is just another stage. Focus on what’s to be gained.

3. And when all else fails: Girl, SUCK IT UP. You’ve got no choice but attitude. The train’s not stopping so you might as well enjoy the ride.


And yet...

***

P.S. A thought-provoking, brand new TED talk by Stephen Cave on the four stories we tell ourselves about death. (It is not death I am anxious about (at least not yet), but the decline that precedes it.)

18 comments:

  1. In many ways, the decline isn't fun, but there are compensations that make this last big phase of life a joy. There's satisfaction in everyday life, seeing what you've done, and continuing to make the best out of what you have. There's more time to savor each bit that comes along. And best of all, there are grandkids! Those joyful sticky fingered hugs are just the best ever, then when they go home with their parents, you can settle into a quiet, satisfaction of a life well lived. In some ways, these are the best of all. Maybe that's why they're called the Golden Years.

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    1. Thank you for the perspective.

      And you know, I feel like I'm growing into myself and I LOVE that feeling. So there's that.

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  2. I am only 2 years older than you, but my health began to decline when I turned 30. It has been a hard journey, sometimes filled with bitterness and resentment. But this I can tell you, when I began to realize that life still had joy despite the chronicity and decline of my health…I began to look for joy everywhere I could. And I am finding it, one day at a time!

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  3. I feel two ways about age now. One is joy in a few words: grandchildren, discretionary time, beauty, friends, dreams. At age 65 I've never been more alive and grateful.

    But I know your fear and dread too. Every honest, awake person does. I've decided to look death (and its possible precursor, disability) in the face as much as I can bear it. I chose this as my mission statement in 2004: "I want to prepare for the hour of my death, by living one good day at a time, and helping others do the same." That's why I wrote my memoir Blush, and that's why I wrote these words to you today, dear Jennifer. Thanks for being so honest!

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  4. Couple thoughts:
    1) I'm still in my early 30s, up all night with babies phase, but I think about this sometimes.
    2) Whenever I get depressed and freaked out about it, I think about Tim Jost's comment at church a few weeks ago (were you there?), on the occasion of his mumblemumble birthday. He said that he was happier and more fulfilled than he had been at any other point in his life, and he wanted all of us young things to know that!
    3) Being a grandparent sure looks like more fun than being a parent, and your eldest is so eager to be a good daddy, I'm sure you'll get plenty of grandkids out if that one. (Also, I think it's lovely that he's volunteering for nursery!)
    4) I remember being pregnant and thinking this was a preview of how I would feel when I was 80. My hips were all over the place and I was tired all the time.
    5) Other previews: My optometrist told me that the way I have trouble focusing when he puts those dilating drops in my eyes are "a preview of your 40s," and I keep thinking about that as the first stage in decline and decay.
    4) I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks about this, though I do think my bigger fear is dying when my children are still little enough to really need me. Probably this will fade as they get less completely helpless...

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this.

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  5. I love this post and agree with all the comments. I just turned 39 last week. That day at work, my co-workers all agreed, it just keeps getting better! One gal said her 40's were her best years and my retiring supervisor who is 65 agreed- it just keeps getting better. I think the sad part is when you think about all your "1st's" are coming to an end. And maybe this is why we tend to "live" through our children.

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  6. I don't have much room to talk, as I am only 29...though even I too think about this. Especially since my job is taking care of the elderly and handicapped. The one main lady that I take care of is 86, has dementia, has arthritis all over her body, and is barely to walk. She is the last of her family. The LAST. No children, nothing. She is all alone except for us caregivers. We try to be her family. Taking care of this lady makes me think about what life is all about. Is it about adventure and world travel...probably, is it about making money and being successful...maybe (probably not), is it about family and friends...most definitely. Without family and friends we will have no one to help us as we grow old. No one to hold our hands and rub our backs, no one to share holidays with. It is a very depressing thought. Sometimes I get lost in that thought, especially since my husband and I do not have any children yet.

    So despite your thoughts on the next stage of life, think this: you are rich in life because you have an abundance of family and friends. They will always surround you no matter your age or well being. They will be there for you and you will have nothing to worry about. :)

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  7. I thought my 30s were great, but 40s ROCK!! I married later in life and had my first kid at 37 and my second at 40. So now I am 47 and some of my high school friends have grandchildren, but I am having the time of my life! My kids have finally reached the ages where they are more fun than work. Everyone sleeps through the night! All bottoms are wiped by their owners! All teeth are brushed without incident! People can feed themselves! I thought that I'd feel old at 47, but instead I feel marvelously alive and have to remind myself all the time that I'm not still 22 -- and should I forget, and challenge my 7 year old to an all-out 1/2 mile sprint, my knees will remind me of what my brain forgot.

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    1. And this is one of the reasons I think it would be fun to have another kid now---it'd would keep me young.

      (Or else push me into my early grave...which would be counterproductive so never mind.)

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  8. Thanks for your post. I have found myself thinking similar thoughts, I guess we all do. My mom died when she was 58. I am 42. Somehow 58 seems just around the corner. I am going to try to keep enjoying the ride. :)

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  9. I recently listened to this radio program on On Being and was intrigued when they spoke of dying as a developmental stage of life. I know you're not talking about dying, but you still might find it interesting.
    http://www.onbeing.org/program/contemplating-mortality/4653

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  10. I was fine up until now. Now I see you're looking at me and thinking rot, pain, mental decrepitude.

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  11. yada, yada, yada

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  12. I am SO with you on this. It really hit me two years ago when my grandfather died...Noni had passed two years prior...and the harsh reality that if MY mom could lose HER parents...that means that ONE day, I will lose MY parents. And MY kids will lose ME. It really bothered me for weeks...to the point of tears on a regular basis. And your post made me weepy. Life is good...it really is in so many ways. But it can also seem like a big joke...a mean and cruel joke. It's a lot to ponder...and something to take before God I suppose... Either way...I hear you...loud and clear.

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  13. It's ladies like this that make it seem totally aok . . .
    http://www.faithit.com/100-year-old-lady-talks-about-love-long-life/

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  14. I went and watched the talk by Stephen Cave. I loved it. He is right, I think, no matter what you believe, that our best efforts go into making our story good. You should be overjoyed! Your story is joyous, adventurous, and shared by many. As an old lady, I can tell you that you that you just need to be present. There are gifts in every age.

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  15. Thirty-eight is getting old? Try 70 and being a widow for the last 25 years, waking up with aches and pains all through your body. And yet.....I have grandchildren 1,3 and 8 who bring me joy.

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  16. It would be a lie to say to you that you will not miss the time of life you are at right now. You will. The road ahead has the potential to become more complicated, riven as it is with teenagers and adult children and the general encroaching decrepitude of ourselves and of those we love. I try to look at it as those first 40 - 45 years I was in training for the next 30 or 40. Now I face the race to be run, and I need everything I have learned so far in order to make it. It is quite daunting.

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