I remember listening to the Beatles song When I’m Sixty-Four when I was in my early twenties and teasing my husband that I would still be fabulous at that age. Of course the very thought of being that old was unimaginable to me back then. Somehow I felt as though being old was something my grandmothers did, but certainly not me. My first brush with reality came when my lovely mother’s hair began to turn grey and she walked with hesitation because her knees were not quite working right. She gave up sewing by hand when her fingers became deformed by arthritis. and her usual energy was replaced with numerous naps during the day. Of course she was in her eighties by then, but I began to realize that I was following a pattern that she and every other human eventually must endure, the process of growing old.
I have to humbly admit that when I finally reached the grand old age of sixty-four I was not that far off from my prediction that I would still be fabulous. My doctor declared that I was as healthy as a horse and I was still working twelve hour days at full tilt. I didn’t look so bad either, given my age. Sadly, from that magical point forward I came to resemble an old car that develops one problem after another and spends a great deal of time in the shop.
My knees were the first to go. A bit of surgery on one of them forestalled the need to replace either of them, but when rain or cold is on the horizon I walk more slowly and with a slight bend. Arthritis has found a home in all of my joints sending me to physical therapy sessions for arms, back, knees and feet. It never occurred to me that it would be my skeleton that would fail me and give me that first glimpse of being an old lady.
I had nary a grey hair until about a year ago, but when the first one came the others followed in rapid succession. About the same time wrinkles began to show up here and there. Young people began to defer to me by opening doors and offering me seats on public transportation. They would ask me if I needed to have help carrying my groceries as though I had suddenly become an invalid. I had to remind myself that they were actually being polite and kind rather that trying to insult me. I learned to accept their offers with gratitude even though I am still perfectly fine standing in a moving train and lugging my own packages.
I don’t recall my grandmothers ever worrying about getting older. They just went with the flow unlike my generation that seems to want to drink from the fountain of youth to prove that they can do anything a youngster is able to do. I am perhaps more guilty of such tendencies than most. I still move gingerly up and down the steps leading to my attic handling heavy boxes. I stand on high ladders to reach corners of my home. My daughters chide me and remind me that I should not still be doing such things, but I seem to have inherited by grandfather’s hardheadedness. When he was eighty-eight, he was still climbing high into the air to install light fixtures at NASA. He worked happily until a supervisor realized how old he was and sent him home for good.
Without divulging my age I will just say that I am past the iconic age from the Beatles song. My doctor actually marvels at how well I am doing. He often tells me that I do not look or act my age. I know that I make an effort to stay active in both mind and body, but I have also witnessed some of my peers losing battles against the degeneration that is inevitable as their years on this earth accumulate. I grow weary of receiving learning that yet another dear friend has passed from this earth. I understand that my fate is entangled with the natural order of things. I can only stave off the march of time for so long before I too become more and more limited by a waning body and mind.
For now I am somehow fortunate to still maintain a small sliver of my youthful energy. I have the strength to do most of the things I have always done, but not quite as quickly as in the past. I find great joy in each moment and appreciate things that I may have overlooked at one time. I hear to cooing of the doves that flock to my backyard each spring and it is glorious. I watch the children laughing and playing on my street and my heart bursts with optimism and hope. My youthfulness lies in my heart and my willingness to hand over the future to the hopes of dreams of the younger generation. I have every faith that they will do a remarkable job.
To everything there is a season. My mother always told me that there comes a time to simply sit back and enjoy each moment, trusting in the wisdom of those who will follow me. My children and students and grandchildren are seizing each day in continuing the work that my generation and other generations so earnestly tried to do. The world keeps moving, and my part in it these days seems to be to simply to love and encourage optimism for the future. I stay young at heart because I look back with wisdom and gaze forward with hope. I age with grace.