When we denigrate aging and only see it primarily as a time of decline and weakness, we rob ourselves of one of the most influential and powerful forces in our life.
Dr. Marc Agronin
The End of Old Age
The other day I caught a glimpse of myself as I passed the hallway mirror. I stopped and backed up a few steps for a longer gaze. What grabbed my attention was a flap of skin. I know I had seen it before, just under my chin and above my throat. But I’d also seen it on other older people. Or maybe it was lines on their faces. Two thoughts sprang to mind:
1) I’m getting older and
2) It doesn’t look all that bad.
Then I wondered, ‘How do I feel about that?’
And I thought about walking in the deep woods, hearing a growing roar, rounding a bend and coming face to face with a 100-foot waterfall — spectacular, breathtaking, and beautiful!
Or notice a restored vintage automobile, perhaps a ’55 Chevy, driving smoothly down the street — sweet, special, and beautiful!
Or go back to the house where you lived growing up — comforting, poignant, and beautiful!
The waterfall is there because of the steady erosion and disintegration of rock and earth by water — a crumbling and a deterioration. The crash of a meteor. A wild herd stampede over the edge. A homespot for a group of Neanderthal. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!
The car has some dents and a few scrapes and most certainly rust. Zero to 60 off a red light. Making out in the back seat. A realization of independence. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!
The house is smaller than you remember it, definitely worn and probably in need of a coat of paint. Safe sacred space. Smells that you can still taste. Adolescent insecurities. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!
The painful losses and poignancy of aging are inevitable.
There is beauty and gallantry in aging.
So here’s my question: If we can see the beauty in waterfalls or in vintage cars or in the house of our childhood, why can’t we see the beauty and gallantry in older people or in ourselves as we age?
Why can’t we have our breath taken away by older people and appreciate the unspoken and undiscovered experiences of our elders? And the beauty? Why don’t we recognize the treasures of our elders, with all their crumblings and deteriorations, their scrapes and rust, their smallness and wornness?
There are many answers to these questions. One is that, for 200 years, our culture has trained us to deny and fear aging and death. Another is that the view of older people has morphed into being worn out machines, to be either fixed or warehoused. Another is that we ourselves have bought into this “bill of goods,” that old is bad or shameful, and that we’re doing something wrong just by still being alive.
Inevitably, we are the worn houses of our youth! For that I am proud, humbled and enlivened.
It is important to keep on asking and challenging why it is that we can’t see the beauty and treasure in our elders, and in ourselves, that we can see in deteriorating waterfalls, rusted cars or the worn houses of our youth?
Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.