Last week I traveled to Virginia to visit one of my best friends & attend a concert with her. After the concert as we were walking back to our cars we started talking about getting older & I told her something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I don’t fear getting older because to me it just seems like I’m “growing into my age.” To my great relief she completely agreed with me. (I’ve always said the way I know I’ve made a great friend is when they can relate to my weird ideas & thereby make me feel less crazy.)
Basically my whole life, certainly since I was 16 or thereabouts, people have always thought I’m older than I actually am. I remember during my first few weeks at college so many people were shocked when they discovered that I was only a freshman, & even as a nurse people always seem to assume I’m older & more experienced than I am. Quite a few people in my life, both my age & decades older than me, have told me that I have “an old soul.” I’ve always taken this as a compliment; some certainly meant it that way, others perhaps not.
I’m not really sure what point I’m trying to make with this post, but I see that our society is so focused on youth & constantly trying to fight or hide the signs of aging & I can’t help but feel that this has some deeper meaning. Let me be the first to admit that I know I’m going to freak out the first time I find a grey hair or notice a wrinkle on my face that isn’t from sleeping on the pillow wrong. It’s only natural to not want to be reminded of your own mortality & to want to look beautiful forever. And in our society, like most societies I suppose, young & beautiful are pretty much synonymous. (By this I mean youth does not necessarily equate to beauty but someone who is deemed beautiful is almost always young or “looks great for their age.”) But this constant obsession with looking young makes me inclined to believe that our society does not value the wisdom of old age; nor are we thankful for the opportunity to grow old.
Perhaps it comes with being a nurse but I don’t see getting older as something that should strike fear in our hearts. Even as a kid I had a pretty liberal view of aging. In fact as a child my sister & I used to say people were “getting old” in their 70’s but not actually old till their 80’s. As a nurse I’m constantly reminded that age is just a number & so many people can be “young” into their 80’s or even 90’s if their health is good & their attitude is right. Others can be “old” in their 40’s if they have poor health & a negative attitude toward life. It’s really all about perspective & understanding that life really is a gift. Again as a nurse I’m continually reminded that not everyone gets to live a long, healthy life. So to me the idea of getting older isn’t so scary, for as long as I have reasonably good health I hope I will see each new day as the gift it truly is.
I’m not blind so I know that getting older does have its own unique difficulties. But right now getting older for me just means my late 20’s & 30’s & hopefully becoming a parent some time in there. I know my attitude might change 20 or 30 years from now when getting older means arthritis, cataracts, & other age-related troubles. But for right now I have to say, unlike a lot of people, I’m not dreading turning 30 in a few years because honestly I think in my mind I’m already a bit older than my age says I am. I guess it goes back to that old soul thing because so much of the time I find myself feeling older than people my own age in the sense that I have different values about life or am simply at a different stage of life than many people my age. (I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant because I certainly don’t think I’m better than others.)
Lately I’ve seen several blog posts & articles about the self-confidence that comes with reaching your 30’s, & I have to say I can’t wait for that. I look around at people in their 30’s & up & I do feel like they are much less concerned with what everyone else thinks about them because they have learned to value themselves based on their own standards, making the opinions of the world therefore less a concern. I for one can’t wait for the day that I’m that confident!
I guess my point in writing all this is that each stage of life is of value & we shouldn’t rush through or regret any of them. You don’t have to be religious to believe that life is a gift & therefore we should cherish each day, each year, each decade & make the most of every one of them. I know our society has always joked that it’s impolite to ask a woman her age but I for one am proud of my age & plan to always be that way. I love the little old ladies who aren’t afraid to say “I’m 81 & proud of it!” I’m not saying it’s wrong to dye your hair to cover up the grey or to dress in more stylish clothes than the average person your age. Not at all. Indeed I love it when I see older people keeping up with modern technology & trends. But I also think our society needs to learn to value old age as much as it values youth & to realize that getting older isn’t a tragedy at all. It’s a gift.
I hope I will always seek to embody the best qualities of each stage of life. I aspire to never lose the magic & wonder of childhood, the passion & intensity of adolescence, & the excitement & energy of young adulthood. As I age, I hope I can maintain all of these characteristics while also embracing the wisdom, diversity, & knowledge that come with getting older.