“Why are people afraid of getting older? You feel wiser. You feel more mature. You feel like you know yourself better. Would you really trade all that for softer skin? Not me. Nope.” — Anna Kournikova
As you age, things change. Sure, things are always changing, but you notice the differences more acutely as you get older. Time becomes pronounced, elongated even, and if you’re smart, you waste less of it.
Beyond the physical transformation of your body, your worldview gets altered.
Life slows down and becomes more relevant while you, in turn, experience moments and events with more reverence. Suddenly there is a new weight behind a sunrise or sunset. Suddenly the mundane has the possibility of morphing into something that might be miraculous. Suddenly the minutes and breaths matter more.
Lost is the feeling of invincibility that comes with youth, when it was once natural to tempt fate, go to extremes, do stupid things, some of which may have bordered on dangerous.
Invincibility, or the false impression of it, becomes replaced by a profound sense of appreciation and gratitude. The hours, days and nights, become more cherished because you realize how fleeting life really is.
“Aging is a privilege.” — Rene Zellweger
She’s right, of course, Rene is. If you’re aging, it means you’re alive, breathing actual air, privy to the wonders of being human. It doesn’t mean you’re old. It just means you’re really ‘effing lucky.
And still, at a certain point, aging makes you work harder for the simple things—a reach, a stand, a bending over—but those minor aches and pains are actually the pulses and jabs reminding you of your good fate, saying—Hey Bud, you’re still standing on planet earth. You’re still here after all.
As I write this, I’m in Puerta Vallarta. In the pool is a woman I just met, Barb, who is the oldest person here by a long shot. Yet she’s also the most vivacious. When she talks to you, the clouds vanish. When she listens to what you’re saying, she does it with a juror’s intensity. It seems like no one’s told her she’s old, that she is washed out, with nothing left to offer.
Aging tests your resolve in new ways and (hopefully) brings you face-to-face with the audacious questions you were too fearful, or too ignorant, to ask yourself when you were young, chockful of piss and vinegar, years and years awaiting you. Sometimes those questions are deep and a bit unsettling. Sometimes they hit you with a death stare—
What is important in your life, and why in the hell aren’t you tending to them?
What are you waiting for?
Why are you even here?
We’re all growing older, no matter our age. Even as you read this, you’ve aged some (and thank you, by the way, for reading.)
It’s how you adapt to the changes of aging that makes all the difference, noticing that life gifts you with certain wisdoms, some simple, some (hopefully) fierce.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” — George Burns
If anyone knew what he was saying, it was George Burns. He lived to be one hundred.
Ultimately, you can get old, or you can die inside yourself while still alive. You can squander the blessing/boon of life, or you live every minute of it as if you’ll soon be dead. You can be grateful, or you can be bitter.
Maybe time teaches you insights about the importance of patience and haste—slowing down for what’s lovely and true, but making fast work of needless arguments or stupid grudges.
Perhaps, like my new friend Barb, time teaches you the wonder of being observant, how to appreciate today, what’s right in front of you. The Now, of living.
The challenge is to not get overly nostalgic, to remain forward-looking while also being present in the moment.
I can remember being 14 and wanting to be 16 so I could drive… then being 16 and wanting to be 17 so I could get into R-rated movies… then 17 wanting to be 18 so I could vote. Then 18 wanting to be 21 so I could drink (legally)…
Then I hit 30, and 35, and 40, and shit… all I wanted to do was be 14 again, do it all over, but slower this time around, smarter and kinder, be less judgmental, less hasty, be a better human being.
As Rod Stewart sings, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” Or better yet, the second refrain: ”I wish I knew what I know now when I was stronger.”
Brandi Carlile says it well, though differently, in her song “The Story”:
All of these lines upon my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am…
For a long time, I hated my birthday. I think it had to do with my childhood and comparing the lack of celebration to other kids’ experiences, realizing I wasn’t celebrated (loved) as other kids.
Now I embrace every June 26 that arrives. Even without a birthday present, that date is a gift I cling to and take with me wherever I go.
I heard a story the other day about an older guy giving a younger man advice.
He told the young guy about how 20 years or so earlier he had decided that he would stop taking his weekends for granted. He felt he had spent years wasting his days on sleeping until the afternoon, watching television the rest of the day and eventually falling asleep in his recliner with a beer in his hand. He felt there was something wrong with that picture, and decided to do something about it.
So, he bought a bunch of marbles.
He grabbed an old glass jar from his garage and poured a ton of marbles in – one marble for each Saturday he had left in his life. He was 55 at the time, and assumed he had about 20 years worth of Saturdays left – about 1040 marbles in total.
Every Saturday from that day on, he’d start his day by going downstairs to his garage. He’d grab one of the marbles and carry it with him throughout the day, and at the end of the day he’d throw it away. He said it reminded him that this particular day in his life would never come again.
He was telling this guy this story because on that day, he had picked the last marble out of jar. His eyes welled up a bit as he thought about the 20 years of Saturdays that had come and gone, and how dramatically different they were than the ones that proceeded them. How each one had a sense of urgency, of intention. How each was an opportunity to make his life a little bit better, the lives of his loved ones a little bit better.
He told the young man that he felt so fortunate, not only that he had been able to experience all those Saturdays, but that he’d been given more than he had planned. He said every single Saturday after this one was a gift, and his heart was filled with gratitude.
As he walked away from the young man, he told him to remember to number your days.
— Sean Johnson