On The Golden Years
Monday January 31, 2022
“Why’s he holding that stick, mommy”? Comes my three-year-old's voice from the backseat.
“Which stick?” I absently respond as I maneuver into the left turn lane.
“That one!” She says emphatically, pointing out her window. I quickly glance at my sideview mirror before making the turn and spot an older gentleman steadying himself on a wooden cane as he makes his way down the sidewalk.
My stomach drops - an odd reaction for such a benign question. After a rapid string of mental cartwheels, I do my best to explain that as our bodies age, they sometimes get weaker and we may need a little extra support to do things. And then, her reaction:
“I don’t WANT to be old! I don’t ever want to get old, Mommy!! Will you get old? No, Mommy, don’t be old. Never be old!”
My heart breaks a little at the urgency in her voice, the fear that is so familiar. But I mentally brace myself for the conversation to come; I’ve prepared for this moment after all.
I’ve spent these last few years thinking more about aging and death than the average twenty-to-thirty-something year old does. When my anxiety around getting older started bubbling over during my postpartum season with Haley, I spent months playing detective of my own past - I ruminated and processed and prayed, arduously connecting the dots between the places this despondence laid roots. Yes, the constant messaging from media and movies had its (significant) part, but also, maybe more so, the absence of age-positive role models or healthy conversation around the cycle of life. In its place were wistful comments about neck wrinkles, the lamenting of gray hairs, the equating of aging to loss and lethargy. And in an effort to heal, I began to uproot the falsehoods I’d believed from the women ahead of me, those who too had been unwittingly led astray by the women before them. I’ve begun embracing the aging process, in myself and those around me, with awe for what’s being gained rather than sadness for what’s being lost.
In that light, I’ve been careful to talk to my daughters about aging and growing up as a beautiful and organic process, to speak about older people in our lives with honor and admiration. I don’t ask them, even playfully, to stay little forever. When my oldest asks me why I’m throwing something away, I try to explain that we don’t need it anymore, that it’s “used” or “yucky” instead of old so that she doesn’t conflate oldness with uselessness - the lie that I’d internalized with dread for so much of my youth. The fear of becoming obsolete is a universal one, understandably so, as insignificance and purposelessness is diametrically opposed to the very fabric of our humanness. We, as people who have been made to create and cause and contribute, are not meant to slowly fade into oblivion as we gain the gift of years. No, we can fiercely carry the light we’ve been given from birth to death despite a slowing body or a patchy memory. Every season may look different, but perhaps change is what marks the very beauty of seasons.
In her book, Turning of Days, Hannah Anderson says this: “As autumn comes and the earth tilts away from the sun, the days shorten and temperatures drop, sending green plants and tree leaves into senescence, the gradual deterioration process that accompanies aging. Less daylight…allows the pigments underneath the green — yellow, orange, brown, and red — to dominate. Eventually photosynthesis halts altogether. The death of the leaf is certain now as cellular respiration ends, but just as certain is the fiery show before it falls to the earth to die.”
As we approach my dad’s retirement this month (!!), I am so grateful to be filled with anticipation and hope for this very significant third act of his life, the golden years, the gun lap. What a mark of healing. I’m so proud of my dad for running hard and well (with bumps, of course, as such is life) and am more than certain that his next twenty to thirty years, God willing, will be an amazing fiery show - one that leaves the observer in wonder at how beautiful we are just before we take our final bow. And as we raise our girls within this truer narrative, I pray that we can shift the conversation around life and aging and death, the definition of significance, and the ruler with which we measure the fruit of our lives.
for joy in every season,