My granddaughter exclaimed, “It’s February, my birthday month. I’ll be seven! I can’t WAIT to be older!”
Me? “March, ugh, my birthday month!”
What a difference! I notice more gray sprouts at the temples, more wrinkles, more age spots on my hands. The effect of long-time living in gravity takes its toll; my flesh sags more as birthdays mount. When do we stop being happy about growing younger towards death?
Like me, do you point to what’s gone, what’s missing? I can no longer snap out Jeopardy answers. I’ve lived where I live today most of my life and now, I ask for directions. “How do I get to Congress Street?”
My wide-eyed six-year-old granddaughter beamed, “Every February day I‘m going to wear bright colors to celebrate my birthday. And, Mommy can I eat a little cake every day?”
Before birthdays, grown-ups vocalize their hate for inevitable aging. When and how do adults make aging an enemy? Age 18? When do we start being enticed by neutral colors? Age 40? When do we stop wishing for the sweetness of cake? I wonder, is it possible to befriend time?
Here’s what I’ve noticed in those of us my nine-year old granddaughter calls, “elders.” We bemoan the past. “I can’t ski anymore because of my hip joint. I can’t walk on the beach anymore; I am too unsteady. I always loved parties; now I go to bed at 9:00.” We fear the future. “My Mom had Alzheimer’s. I’m afraid I will too.” Or, “My Dad died of cancer. I hope I don’t.”
Normal, of course.
Every year, the same thing. Every time the biological clock ticks up, our minds and conversations default to the past or future. We often complain. With other elders, we share our “organ recitals” or “Grand Rounds.” “Here’s what’s wrong with me today….”
Yet the day of our birth arrives and it’s just a number. It’s just today. We feel the same as we felt the night before when we went to bed, when we were younger. We spend our last moments of being that past age predicting our future decline starting tomorrow. The mind suggests that we’ve arrived at the peak of that hill and soon we will tip over and crash into “it’s all downhill from here.”
We wake up at our new age. And maybe we come to know that we erode our limited life energy if we yearn for the long-gone past, and project into the not-yet future. And maybe, with that insight, we begin to settle into the present, the only moment we can inhabit, the only moment we have, have ever had, will ever have.
Many teachers remind us that our minds tend to Velcro onto what’s wrong as an ancient survival tool. We don’t need pleasant thoughts when chased by tigers. So now, we need training to lean into what’s working, what’s not wrong. They suggest a practice of keeping a what’s-right list, mentally or written.
I can taste this delicious birthday cake
I can laugh when I hear silly Jimmy Fallon
I can feel warm water in the shower
I can see spectacular striped skies at sunrise and sunset
I can smell yummy onions sauteing
I can read or listen to podcasts
The sages tell us, as long as we are alive, there is always more right than wrong. Always. If we miss our sweet moments, we miss our sweet life, no matter if we are seven or seventy-three. What if we wake up, one day older, and open our eyes wide to the precious now?