Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Musings on Aging
When I was the child in this photo, my goal was to become a college student. So when I graduated from college, I felt more than a bit lost, having given little thought or energy to the life that lay beyond. For the next couple of decades I still felt 17. I enjoyed a reputation as a precocious young person amidst my elders, and recently realized I still take pleasure in exceeding expectations.

In my thirties and forties I unofficially adopted a growing family. As “Aunt Gwen” I became a quasi-matriarch, ending up with seven grandbabies. My mother transformed from a plan-initiating, world-traveling woman to an Alzheimer’s patient, addled, dependent and childlike. Empathy for my mother’s situation, interacting in the workplace with folks decades older than me, and my own fibromyalgia and other complaints added to my feeling quite “old”. Still, eighty didn’t seem so old now that my mother was eighty.

Life changes suddenly brought me into daily contact with young people. In the medical school, the energy of youth surrounds me. The intellectual dance of serious learning and playful cleverness is stimulating. Emotional and relational struggles in my younger friends’ lives reflect my own. Being single all my life adds to the fluid sense of age, since I have no family milestones from which to take my bearings. It’s freaky to have friends my age with receding hairlines, paunches and wrinkles and still recognize the young person they were when we met.

Writing my autobiography in 2006 allowed me to revisit all the years from the first half of this journey and incorporate all those parts of me into who I currently am…child, adolescent, young woman, matriarch and (currently) a white-haired but “youthened” woman experiencing a creative renaissance, pursuing a wide range of activities and finding that play enhances my sense of well being and engagement.

At my fiftieth birthday I was asked to share any wisdom gleaned along my path. My response was instant: “For every ‘Yes’ you say in life, there are many ‘Nos’.” The finitude of this life experience has been my greatest ongoing challenge. I can’t be more than one place at once. I can’t practically incorporate as much adventure and relational richness and newness into my life as I would wish for and imagine.
Poets and scholars affirm my confidence that there is another world, an experience beyond this one, where finitude loses its restrictive grip and expansiveness becomes our “normal”. “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” (Isaiah 9:17) I’m dying, and living, for the dawning of that day.