It’s not a turning-of-the-decades one, but I do have a “I’m getting up there” March birthday. I am aware that when my grandparents were my age, I thought they were ancient. My grandmothers wore print housedresses and full aprons. One grandfather was bald; the other stooped, walked with a cane and talked about his “bum knee.”
I don’t have any of that. I did have surgeries to replace two bum hips, so now I move in ways the numbers wouldn’t predict. But I obsessed just the teeniest bit about the numbers of aging, so I consulted my most steadfast teachers of Truth, my grandkids, all under the age of eight. After all, Psalm 127:3 (New King James Version) says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward.”
They said, “Men are older than women, right? Daddy’s older than Mommy.”
I knew what they meant. I said, “Sometimes. But I’m older than Papa.”
Walker, 7, asked, “How can you can tell if a person’s old?”
I paused. This is a deep and important question. His twin brother Taylor piped up, “They get wrinkles.”
Brooke, 2, asked, “How do they get wrinkles?”
Five-year-old Lawson said, “They shrink.”
The thread of aging faded in our chat as they showed how fingers wrinkle in the tub. I said, “like prunes.” Lawson said, “It’s called pruny.”
The topic of aging did not fade in my head, though. I wondered, “when do I feel old?” Answer: when I feel lethargic, set in my ways, or when I can’t laugh with those spirited (as in filled-with-spirit kids) and when creativity blanks. Then, youth, what is youth? Emily Dickinson said, “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”
Ah, perhaps biological age takes a back seat to our felt sense of inner energy. How do we grow newer every day? Back to my grandparents: maybe they weren’t so old after all. Memere Lebel, in her late 70s, learned to keep score in tennis as she watched her grandchildren play. In her early 90s, Memere Albert started to play computer solitaire. Pépère Albert told jokes as he ran five or six grandchildren at a time into the water at Kinney Shores, singing Frere Jacques and Aloutte all the way. Then he played lifeguard while we swam. Until the moment he died that afternoon after a favorite lunch, Pépère Lebel winked at us, blew smoke shapes from his pipe, and led us in rousing song fests as he played piano by ear.
No doubt Henry David Thoreau was right: “None are so old as those who have outlived their enthusiasm.”
I’m told the word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek “enthusia,” derived from En Theos, or “in God.” Could it be that when we feel enthusiasm, it means we feel spirit in us? Could it be that we have aging all wrong when we stress numbers like “under the age of eight,” or “in her eighties?”
There is nothing more like Church for me than how being with my grandparents was or how hanging out with my grandchildren is. Octogenarians and youngsters teach me–can teach us–what it is to be human, spiritual lessons about simplicity and perspective. Pepere’s half-English, half-French stories often ended like sermons. “There will always be trouble and always moments of fun. Don’t forget to laugh.”
And children as teachers? First grader Taylor reported, “Fifth-grade girls don’t like me. They say mean things to me.”
I said, “I’m sorry. Ouch.”
He said, “It’s ok. I just anore them.”
Curious whether he meant annoy or ignore, I asked, “You anore them?”
Teaching what the Buddhists point to when they talk about the many options in “beginner’s mind,” he said, “Ya. I just run off and play.”
One day at the pool Brooke, then age two, helped me see beyond age spots, wrinkles or tiny pruny hands. We had been splashing in the “baby” pool for an hour and I got tired. I said, “I’ll sit on the edge now, right here, really close so I can see you and get to you.”
She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips, “I need a gwown-up in here.”
She was hinting at experience, trust and presence. A gwown-up is someone beyond dualistic adult/child, young/old. A gwown-up is a person who shows up enthusiastically for life and for others.
Another day Brooke asked me, “How old are you?”
She said, “I’m 68 too.”
Maybe wisdom and joy have nothing to do with age. Maybe what matters is “Am I living newer every day, En-theos?” Because, as Buddhist teacher Robert Thurman says, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
We need gwown-ups here.
LOVE this post, Sue! And, Happy, Happy Birthday, my birthday-month Sister! As ever, Love! Joni
Loved your post, Sue! As a 68 year old myself, I think about what it is like to be old a lot..And yet I seldom “feel” old.