When the electrician was calculating our bill the other day, he turned to me apologetically and said, "I have to ask you an awkward question. Do you qualify for a senior citizen discount?"
Now I'm not sure if it starts at 60 or 65, but since I'm only 48 I was pretty sure I didn't qualify, and I was a little stunned by the question.
The following day I was at the cosmetics counter of a local department store lining up for my free sample of facial products that would be ‘just right for my skin type.'
"Oh, you must want the one for wrinkles," the salesgirl said, casually tossing the samples in my direction (and leaving no time to argue!).
I have long ago stopped pretending that I'm having another 29th birthday.
Although I have as much vanity as the next person, both of these stories made me laugh (which of course is the reason for all my wrinkles!). I have long ago stopped pretending that I'm having another 29th birthday, or even 39th. When you have children who are in their 20s, it's hard to uphold the illusion. I have accepted (mostly) that some parts don't work as well as they used to. I may exercise more regularly than I did in my 20s but I move just a little bit slower. And my mind certainly isn't as sharp. (My LSAT score would be a lot lower these days and my memory is a little more blurry -- or perhaps a little more crowded.)
But this doesn't need to be a time for wistfulness and nostalgia. Although there is an excitement to being young, feeling the sense of possibility and potential, there is a deep pleasure to realizing it. There is a satisfaction in working hard at something you believe in, at learning from your failures (or at least surviving them) and in celebrating the accomplishments. There is a pleasure to the wisdom gained from experience, the deeper insights acquired, even if they don't come tripping facilely off my lips. My mind may be slower (where are those glasses?), but my thoughts (I hope) are richer.
At 25, life seemed simple, my goals a snap to accomplish. 20-something years later, I marvel at the naivete of youth (Mark Twain and all that), especially as I listen to my children and their friends. It's necessary at that age to have a simplistic view. It propels us forward. If we knew all the challenges ahead, we would be afraid to try, afraid to venture out. The simple view is a gift but it's also limiting.
Life is more complicated now, the answers more elusive; the only certainty is the Almighty's love. Sometimes I long for that black and white world of the past, but would I trade my life for it now? Although there was a certain wonder and excitement to youth, it still had its own set of challenges and uncertainties. Perhaps those who want to recapture their youth have forgotten what it was like!
Having survived some difficulties (and struggling in the midst of others), us "middle-aged" folk are able to have some perspective on the growth and depth they've brought to who we've become.
The 20s are frequently a selfish time -- all about me and my accomplishments. With the greater confidence and greater humility of age, it's possible to let others in, to become a true giver and listener. (I'm not saying I have; just that it's possible.)
I was at a political fundraiser recently where a woman my age seemed to have mistakenly gone shopping in the teen department. I can't speak for anyone else but I didn't think it was attractive. I thought it was sad.
Although there are many aspects of myself (physical, emotional, spiritual) that I am not at peace with, I feel myself inching towards acceptance (I've always dreamed of that age where weight doesn't matter). It's a struggle in a world of plastic surgery (with nearby Beverly Hills probably the nation's capital) to be unafraid to grow old and to (try to) do it gracefully.
Perhaps if I'd used more sunscreen as a teenager. Perhaps I should have lifted more weights in my 30s. Maybe I should have put more effort into learning in my 20s. Maybe then I'd be perfectly self-actualized; a righteous woman with unshakeable trust in the Almighty. But "perhaps" is not helpful. I don't have the past to work with.
But, please God, I still have the future.
I can moan about what I've lost, and try (unsuccessfully) to recapture it. Or I can move on -- to today and tomorrow. I can try to help myself and others learn to navigate our ways through this complex world of ours, trying to understand who we are and what the Creator wants of us. I can try to use my accrued wisdom for good and I can laugh when I look in the mirror (and hopefully on other occasions as well!). I can take pleasure in what I've done and look forward to who I can still become, wrinkles and all.