But I also know that alongside those challenges come some riches that exist only because of the challenges: the rough road to becoming a gracious recipient of help; the enforced graduation from a sympathetic to an empathetic ear; the necessary realization that, if it truly is more blessed to give than to receive, then each refusal to an offer of help is a denial of that blessing to someone else and each acceptance, a facilitation of benediction. I treasure the modelling of this in older friends and family. I do know those who continue to reject reality, who become increasingly bitter or fearful, who mourn every day for what they once were—embodied accumulations of malcontent, just as society has "trained them up to be." Such as these are unaware that refusing to accept help when it is needed (a guiding arm, a hearing aid, a wheelchair) is not a triumph over aging, but rather a burdening upon those who care for you, and that it denies them your full potential in participation or in presence.
These contrasting models of "seniority" remind me how humility and honesty in aging benefits everyone. I want to age like those elderly people in my life who—fragile, dependent, tired—choose to bless those around them again and again with their words, their love, their prayers, their stories, their grace. Even with their dependence.
I am grateful that George MacDonald infected my young imagination so deeply with such fairy-tale oddities as the beauty of agedness, the elegance of work-worn hands, and the wisdom wrought of life-long experience. I am even more grateful for the men and women throughout my life who have proved "the goodness of aging" to be a spiritual truth: modelling graceful, joyful aging—living well in the moment they have been given, despite (and sometimes through the means of) the accompanying challenges; experiencing honestly who they are rather than toiling to be or look or act something other.
Those who remember the past in a manner that—rather than cultivating a deepening dissatisfaction—enriches their present, exemplify the biblical image of Lady Wisdom in the opening chapters of Proverbs. They attest to the understandings yet to come, that only come, by getting older; a whole new chapter in faith.
I hope I am gifted the privilege of aging into elderliness, and if I am, that I will explore its goodnesses and riches to the very full, becoming each year a little bit more wise, a little bit more understanding, a little bit more storied. But if I don't live long enough for that, I hope perhaps you Dear Reader might age well for those of us who won't get a chance. Don't capitulate to the contagion, and fashion a false identity; instead, be joyfully, delightfully, decidedly just as you are: wondrously aging, each and every day; spiritually content that "twenty-nine" only ever happened once; increasingly beautiful, because you are becoming increasingly old.
Photo by JudithMcBride.com
Dedicated to the memory of Cathie Nicholl (1910-2004),
a wise and gracious example of faith-shaped participation
in the beauty and goodness of aging.