Here are some things that remind you that you are getting older: Your 20th high school reunion. Wrinkles on your forehead that seem to always be there, even when you aren’t trying to scrunch up your face. Realizing you’ve known your spouse for nearly 50% of your life. Being in a group at work for the “seasoned” employees who discuss things like rotary phones and tape decks. The desire to never wear uncomfortable clothes again because it’s just not worth it. The absence of any desire to “go out” for the evening in any form other than to dinner or into the garden. And so on.
I turned 38 a few days ago, and though I don’t usually give much more than a passing thought to my age, I just started reading Parker Palmer’s latest book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, so aging and all that comes with it is on my mind. I can’t comment much on what he’s got to say yet since I’m only a little ways in, but early on he writes, “…how we travel the arc between our own sunrise and sundown is ours to choose: Will it be denial, defiance, or collaboration?”
Obviously, at 38 I am nowhere near being an elder in an era when people tend to live well into their 90s. But something about this birthday is reminding me to be sure to collaborate with each passing year, rather than trying to hold onto the things of youth that so often are sold to us as important, or questioning the details of my life situation that are different than what we are taught to expect and strive for.
I ended up having the day off of work on my actual birthday, and my daughter was at day camp, so I had some time to myself. There are lots of things I could have chosen to do, I suppose. Shopping, getting a massage or a haircut, seeing a movie, going on a long run, driving into the city to do something city-like….but what I chose to do was ride a bike down the road that we live on.
I didn’t ride very fast, and I stopped a lot: Once to let some geese and their goslings cross the road, once to say hi to a neighbor girl who was romping around in her yard, once to look at the reflection of some tamarack trees in the bog. Then I went over to one of my favorite trails, one that I usually run, and I walked slowly around a loop that’s dotted with little streams and lots of ups and downs through the woods. Again, I stopped a lot: Once to peer at a snail that was crossing the trail, once to exclaim over seeing another snail, this one perched on a red-capped mushroom, once to take my sandals off to wander for awhile in the ice-cold creek. Nothing was accomplished other than noticing some details that I usually miss when I go by quickly in a car or running shoes.
Rather, I think what happened — in that act of pedaling slowly down a road close to home and meandering through the woods — is that I started to dabble in what it’s like to collaborate with age, instead of denying the fact that time is always passing or defying the truth that slowing down is good (and necessary more than I think it is). I let the events of the day unfold, instead of always looking ahead to the next thing. After all, we can’t force ourselves to get older (or stay younger) – all we can do is let the current of life take us where it’s gonna take us next.
So, there are a lot of things these days that remind me that I’m getting older. But there are also a lot of things these days that invite celebration: Celebration that becoming older is a gift — one that’s worth the effort it takes to slow down and notice what is under the wrapping. If life is an arc between sunrise and sunset, may we all embody the speeds that allow us to savor the colors as they grow, evolve, and eventually fade.