We are four women of a certain age gathered together to learn about and share with one another our thoughts and feelings and ideas on ageing.
Our teacher is RamDass. A video recording of a presentation he made 25 years ago, 5 years before the stroke that deprived him of his ability to walk, and speak in long sentences, and be independent.
His words are, as RamDass’ words have always been to me, inspiring. Brilliant. Humbling and thought-provoking.
“If we see old people as empty, we are empty of life,” he says. “Because we too shall be ‘old’ one day.”
How we see others is how we see ourselves.
When we are young, we think about ‘getting older’ as an exciting adventure. Something to look forward to, to aim towards. Ask a child their age and they will proudly give you a very specific answer. 4 years and 8 months. 5 and a half years. They might even hold up their fingers to demonstrate the number.
In our teens and 20s, our goal is always to ‘get older’. To become that age where people quit asking, ‘what do you plan to do with your life’, because we’re now doing it.
And then we reach our 30s, possibly even 40s, and age becomes something we’re mostly hopeful nobody notices, or at least will have the grace not to mention and if they do, mistake us for younger than the actual number of years beneath our belts.
I only ever had one crisis of aging. It was the year I was turning 35. I panicked. I was pregnant with my second child. Juggling work and an 18 month old and wondering, what am I doing with my life? I felt like such a failure. I’d always wanted to be a writer and I wasn’t writing. I kept looking at those two digits and wondering, Oh No! I am half way there. Half way through. What is half way?
I couldn’t figure out if it was half way through my 30s that was so terrifying or if I thought I was halfway through my life and needed to get going faster to become who I was meant to be — if only I could figure out who that was.
Turning 35 was the impetus for my taking my writing seriously. I published my first article that year and started focusing on freelance writing and completed my first novel. I also got serious about therapy. About figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with me so I could find the right way out to seeing myself as whole. Worthwhile. Valued and valuable.
And then the 40s appeared and I was suddenly single, a working mother of two young children and going deeper into therapy. I knew I had to ‘find myself’ to start living life on the other side of my fear that I was missing life.
In my 40s, many things changed. One of the major changes was where once getting older seemed exciting, suddenly it loomed as something to fear.
And so it continued. Excited about getting older. Fearing getting older. To overcome the fear, I have had to learn to make friends with it. With aging. With the mystery of living and dying.
As I move closer to a ‘senior’ frame of reference, aging has become less of “A Thing” and more, just a thing. Like a car, things change. My job is to gracefully accept change without fighting, resisting, or pushing against it. My job is to take care of my vehicle and adapt to its changes with respect and love, so that as I age, I have the freedom and grace to be however I am without thinking who I am is a number on a calendar page that turns older every day, thus lessening my value or worth.
I am learning to grieve the losses, and celebrate the changes.
Aging, RamDas shared, is like setting sail in a boat that you know is going into the ocean and will sink.
We all age. It is unavoidable. What is avoidable, is thinking my age is the measurement of who I am or fearing that as the numbers grow, my sense of self lessens.
Every age has its opportunities, its complexities, its teachings and its challenges. To live my age fearlessly, I must, as RamDass counselled, embrace the entirety of who I am: I Am Loving Awareness and embrace the mystery of living and dying in Love.
May my life be my creative expression of Loving Awareness continually illuminating the mystery of life as I grow older and more comfortable with my human expression of learning to live and die with grace.