By Harriet Gross
When I was 20, I wanted to be 40 – more “mature,” more “polished.” When I was 40, I wanted to be 20 again – “looser,” less “burdened” by home and family responsibilities. Now that I am 83, I want only one thing: to become 84!
Time perception is a mysterious, wonderful, ever-shifting phenomenon. For small children, summer vacation is forever; for adults, it is a brief instant: that long-planned and saved-for cruise or lifetime dream trip to Europe comes and goes so quickly. Was it worth all the money, all the arrangements, all the anxiety?
Aging brings with it so many changes and adjustments. We make peace with the inevitable fact that many long-held dreams will never come true. We stop trying to stop what happens to our bodies, bowing to the inevitable: we will change our hair style and maybe color; we will continue to exercise (if we are wise), but with different routines. We may begin to choose clothing and shoes with comfort rather than style in mind – or we may reread that poem about wearing purple when we are old, and go wild with whimsy, just for the fun of it. We are all different…
But aging also forces us to face many losses tied to – but beyond – our own physicality. We may lose our spouses. Our children and grandchildren may move far away. We may move ourselves, to places much smaller than we’ve grown used to, so things can be provided for us without leaving home. We may stop driving, and be dependent on “the kindness of others,” or have to make detailed, sometimes difficult arrangements to get where we need and want to be. If we are on the low side of the “older adult” spectrum, we may be faced with the care of our own elder parents. If we are on the high side, we may be courting the care of our own children.
But all of the above are facets of life. We are not going to be 20 or 40 again. We may look in the mirror sometimes and not recognize ourselves; we’re like the man who said “I see myself, and wonder what happened!” Or like the woman who said “There’s a younger person inside me who can’t get out!” How do we make the best of this – accept our changes, appreciate who we are – let go of what we don’t have any more, and welcome what we can have in our new future?
I learned from my father, a wise man. A fine doctor in his time, but if he could return today, he would not even recognize what medicine has become – what it can do to prolong life, and help to make that longer life worth living. “None of us knows what we’re going to get,” he would say, referring to all of life, not just its health issues. “We get what we get. And the longer we live, the more we get. So what we have to do is take whatever life hands us and do the best we can of it – because there’s no other choice. It is what it is…” His advice has shaped my life, making it easier to follow the serenity prayer, accepting and doing the best I can with whatever comes that I cannot change.
I think these things out loud as we begin this new 50Plus-Today journey. Please join me – to wherever it may take us!