Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Will Age, But I Refuse to Grow Old

It took me a while to get down the stairs today, navigating gingerly with every step. I paused at the bottom and my husband reminded me that I should probably move from high-impact activities to more joint-friendly sports. I hate that he’s right, and I hate more that I am coming to the sad reality that I have used and abused my body. I don’t regret the wear and tear that I’ve put on it, and I regret even less the life I have been afforded by being active, but I have to come to terms with what is happening to my body, my face, and my life as time goes by. A common expression in our house is, “Man, I’m getting old,” and I don’t want to say that any more. I am not starting a quest to turn back the clock, but rather, I choose to take a new approach to the inevitable. Yes, age is happening, but “old” is a choice and my choice is to never grow there. Just like good wine or tasty cheese it's aged, but old wine or old cheese sounds like a dangerous decision.

I’ve been out of high school 15 years and some of my friends have been in my life for over 20. That sounds ridiculous to me, when I say it out loud, because I feel like I did in college. Minus the body that insists on betraying me and the fact that life has happened enough to me that I’ve been married for over a decade and my kids are practically pre-teens, I don’t feel like I’ve changed. Logically I know better, but I think this must be the initial stages of mid-life contemplation because I feel compelled to prove to people that I am really not getting older. I want to ignore the fact that workers at fast food windows continually call me ma’am, and that I haven’t been carded in over 6 months. Every fiber of my being wants to rail against that, but with deeper consideration, I accept the fact that I do not have the time or the energy. So how can I better accept that pesky second hand?

It is impossible to talk about aging without talking about the abstract existence of time. It is overwhelming to really wrap my mind around it, so concrete metaphors are my only way to conceptualize. One of my graduate school professors explained the time continuum like a stack of papers that goes from floor to ceiling, and that the very top page represents the amount of time that humans have been in existence. WHAT?!? That is mind blowing, but with what scientists have been able to piece together about how long things have been around, including the rocky mountains that draw me to them every summer, it is probably a fairly accurate example. Nothing that we wonder about happens in an instant, and our lives need to be savored in much the same way.

Every time I drive south on I-25 toward Colorado Springs I am struck by the scar that marks one of the foreground foothills. If you are familiar with Colorado at all, it is a mark of miners that tore away part of the mountain in search of gold, and what remains is a manmade imprint on a timeless treasure. On that large stack of papers, that mark on the mountain was likely less than a punctuation mark on that top page, yet it has become a part of the landscape and a great story for curious kids who occupy my backseat.

Why do I value the scars that mark my body any less? They are the scars that tell the moments of my life and how I lived when that mark was made. I can take my finger and trace on the smiley face and squiggly scar that crowd my knee. I can feel the double scar on my abdomen that represents the entrance of two of my kids. My body is a map of where I’ve been, and how I’ve lived. My sagging chest is the remnants of the life I could offer my kids when they were newborns. Those crowfeet that insist on pinching in my eyes are from smiling and laughing with friends and family. My left ring finger that locks on me regularly reminds me that I miscued too many basketballs, but then I look at the ring that lies just under that stubborn knuckle, and I’m taken to even more stories and moments.

So, life will continue to wreak havoc on my body, and I have a choice about whether I will celebrate the changes and force myself to enjoy the aging process, or whether I will fight against it and invest my time (and money) in erasing the life that has happened to my body so far, bitterly complaining that I am getting old. Now don’t get me wrong, I will continue to work toward the most healthful body and mind I can, and that does take energy and time, but most of all it takes acceptance that what I have been given, and what is yet to come, is a beautiful gift worth celebrating.

He hath made everything beautiful in his time. Eccles 3:11

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