Saturday, April 6, 2013

Aging, Death, and Winning

Over the past few years I've found myself with ample opportunities to spend time with people who were in the last years of living. I've observed; I've asked; I've listened;  It's been quite an education.

We're a funny bunch, us humans. The one sure thing in our lives is that we will die. Most of us don't know when or how we will end but -- pretty much as soon as we can fathom -- we learn that our earthly, physical life is temporary. And yet when we learn of someone's passing, we are shocked -- often followed with "why?". "He was so young". "She was such a good person..." Our denial runs deep.

People of all ages fall off every day -- some instantly, accidentally, intentionally, and others stalked by illness and disease. And if we are really lucky, and dodge the aforementioned, we have the privilege of growing old. If we get to be old, it means we've depleted and squeezed the maximum usage out of our bodies and completed this race we call life. We're winners.

And what is the prize for being a winner? Mmmm - tough question. Old people have suffered a lifetime of accumulated losses: parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, spouses, colleagues and friends. Imagine being the sole survivor of your generation in your family; not having anyone alive who remembers you as a child or at your youthful peak. Imagine that the people in your life have only known your wrinkles and ailments - and not the energy and accomplishments of your younger self. No wonder old people get cranky! I'm getting cranky just writing about it!

When we see an older person it's easy to forget that behind that crusty mask of age is someone with a lifetime of experiences; who flirted and courted and fell in love; who had dreams and hardships and triumphs; and who never imagined that they too would be old some day. And to add to the frustration, old people have a lifetime of wisdom to share - and a small audience who seek it.

In many cultures around the world and in our own aboriginal communities, old people are revered as "elders" -  mentors and living examples of deeply ingrained principles, values and teachings. I am fortunate that in my family -- my tribe -- there is a shared respect, responsibility and appreciation for our elders. We smother them with love and affection and take every opportunity to  express our feelings as not to leave anything unsaid. Come to think of it, not too much of anything is left unsaid in our family -- and that's a good thing!

So if I haven't depressed the hell out of you about growing older and old -- I suppose I am suggesting that you focus on that which you can affect -- your attitude towards aging and the aged. I for one have my eye on the prize and if I get the chance to grow old and a little crusty - I will be grateful for a lifetime full of all that I created for myself. And in the meantime, I'm going to make it my mission that the elders in our tribe are happy to still be in the race!

5 comments:

  1. I think I picked up on similar thinking in something I wrote HERE, but not necessarily from a gloomy viewpoint - merely pondering...

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    1. Penny - you are obviously living the heck out of life and continue to learn, experiment and go boldly forward -- full expression ahead! You are still a contender Penny!

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  2. My nun friend once said (she's 85) that when you are little you go to birthday parties, these switch to bridal showers, then to baby showers, and then finally you seem to only go to funerals. Although it's sad to think, it's also very true. All my grandparents passed away when I was younger and I sure wish I had had more time to spend with them.

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    1. Kattrina, I was fortunate to have my grandparents in my life well into my thirties and had a very special relationship with them,

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  3. I loved this. Very well stated. I can feel your passion through your words.

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