Hello Dear Friends,
I received a chain letter in my email inbox a few years back. You know the kind of thing I mean: you’re supposed to read it, add to it, send it on to a bunch of people (on pain of some dire fate if you dare break the chain), and sooner or later you will open your inbox and voilà, hordes of other people’s chain-letter emails come home to roost.
Or something like that; frankly, I shudder to think of it.
Curmudgeon that I surely am, I don’t play the chain letter game. First of all, I don’t like it being imposed on me, so I’m not about to impose it on other people; and secondly, I’m definitely not interested in receiving even more email than the deluge I already wade through each day.
All that being said, though, I saved the message itself, for the simple reason that I liked it.
Yesterday I celebrated my birthday, The Big Seven Oh.
When I was a little kid, I used jump out of bed on my birthday morning and peek into the mirror to see if I looked older. I certainly didn’t feel any different. In fact, it was a wonderment to me that I didn’t feel different on my Big Day than I had the day before, when I was a whole year younger.
Birthdays were fun, of course, but apart from the party, the birthday cake and the gifts, the very same me got into bed that night as the one who had gotten out of it that morning.
What I didn’t realize was missing in those childhood years was perspective, which began to enter into the picture as I grew older. Time doesn’t lurch from one year to the next; it flows, and it is watching the flow that gives a person perspective.
I think it’s fair to say that by now I’ve accumulated a good deal of perspective; and as I ruminated last night on the joys and challenges of growing old, I remembered that chain letter message, written by some unnamed author, that I had filed away long ago. I searched; I found.
I think this little manifesto stands on its own merits, and I present the gist of it here (by now, of course, I’ve messed with it quite liberally and sprinkled quite few edits in there too – because, well, that’s me – so I can no longer call it a quote). But quote or not, here it is, a piece I’ve chosen to call The Elders’ Manifesto:
As I’ve aged, I’ve become kinder to myself, less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon, before they had time to understand the great freedom that comes with aging.
And whose business is it, really, if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM, or sleep until noon? I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the 50s, 60s and 70s – and if at the same time I feel the need to shed tears over a lost love, then I will do that too.
If I choose, I will walk on the beach in a swim suit that may be stretched over a less-than-svelte body. I will dive into the waves with abandon, despite any pitying glances from the jet set. In time, they too will grow old.
I know I’m sometimes forgetful. But then, there are parts of life – fears, pain, grudges and the like – that are just as well forgotten. Anyway, eventually I remember the important things, and that’s what counts.
And yes, over the years my heart has been broken, many times. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or when a beloved pet dies?
Healing a broken heart is what gives us our strength, our understanding, our compassion. A heart in pristine, sterile perfection may never have known pain, but it will also never know the joys and passions of its strong, relentlessly loving, oft-mended counterpart.
I am blessed to have lived long enough that my hair alone declares me crone, and that my youthful laughter is forever recorded on my face. So many of us don’t laugh any more, and so many have died before their hair ever had the chance to turn silver.
As you get older, it’s easier to just be happy. You care less about what other people think. You tend to second-guess yourself less. And your ego even allows you to be wrong.
I like being old. Growing old has set me free. I like the person I have become.
I know I’m not going to live forever, and I ruminate from time to time about the next part of the journey as I never did when I was young and knew I must surely live forever, if I thought about it at all. As long as I’m still here, I won’t waste my time living in the past, regretting what was and longing for what might have been. Nor will I squander today worrying about what might come.
This moment – this fleeting breath of an infinitely precious life – is mine to live, and live it I shall.