I have been blessed with exceptional family and friends during my lifetime. Each beloved soul is exceptionally funny (at least I think so), intelligent, spirited and sassy, but also fearless… with lots of “weirdness” thrown in for good measure! These are my people, and they know me inside and out. They look at the process of getting older much in the same way…and by that I mean waking-up and crawling out of bed is yet another excuse to become MORE bodacious, and by that I mean MORE outrageous!
Like many woman of my age group, I also belong to a well-known “ladies-only” organization that literally mandates a collective celebration of life at every opportunity. We are known for our shopping skills, our willingness to eat copious amounts of desserts at all hours, and the love of all things purple and red! We choose to age gracefully by using self-depreciating humor, unorthodox public behavior, and very, very silly costumes. We also pledge to assist one another through the bad days of life when clouds threaten to wash away our sunny disposition. We choose to be happy, but it isn’t always easy… crap happens. We try to practice positivity as a rule, rather than an exception.
My professional colleagues are not stereotypical stodgy or intellectually “superior” (even with the alphabet soup added to the end of their names!) as you might suspect. Mental health dudes can sift through negative stuff like a warm knife through butter—there is no way to get away with saying “I’m fine” with these guys when I’m really not! On the contrary, they are very funny and have the ability to analyze human behavior on the spot, and then choose to remain positive when the wacky shit hits the proverbial fan. I’ve decided that I want to be just like them when I grow up!
Obviously we’ve chosen to look at getting older in an affirming kind of way. See if this makes sense to you, too:
ATTITUDE: I’m not a big fan of aging, but I do accept its inevitability (the alternative is not so desirable, know what I mean?) and I am proud of the person I’ve become. I embrace my advancing age as proof that as clumsy and inept as I am on any given day I still haven’t managed to kill myself by tripping over my own two feet! My only “issue” with birthdays is the celebration itself (or for some, the lack thereof).
When October rolls around and I am asked by friends and acquaintances “When exactly is your birthday?” I usually respond by insisting “Oh, my birthday has been cancelled due to lack of interest” (a remnant from less-than-happy birthdays in my youth). God knows I said that for far too many years until it became a Pavlovian response. I dreaded birthdays, but I swear, not the aging part. It just is what it is, I figure. Of course, I never get away with denouncing my birthday. My family and friends are on to me and make darn sure I have a wonderful day, whether I want to celebrate or not.
It wasn’t until I chose to reverse my attitude toward personal celebrations that I started to look forward to birthdays. I am still uncomfortable calling attention to myself under any circumstance but I am working on it, I promise.
Attitude is everything. If birthdays, gray hair and wrinkles or even a slower gait get you down, find a way to surround yourself with positive people of a similar station whose opinion you trust. Correct what perceived defects you can if you must, and adjust your overall negative attitude. We all get older (hopefully!) and we all “shrivel” and “droop” as time inflicts predictable havoc on our bodies and minds.
It is easy to find fault with the side effects of aging, but the key is not to get stuck in all the negativity associated with getting older. Stop trying to equate whether or not you deserve to be celebrated (the answer is always “yes you do”) with what you’ve accomplished. If you are alive, it is reason to celebrate!
GRATITUDE: Blessings are those “extras” that happen when we least expect (or feel we deserve) them. The thing is that sometimes we get so wrapped up in ourselves and how we want things to be that we fail to recognize all the positive stuff actually happening to us!
Most cultures equate wisdom with advanced age (we all know the exceptions to that supposition). Still, learning to be thankful for whatever happens as life progresses doesn’t mean you are a Pollyanna, or have your head stuck in the ground like an ostrich. It doesn’t mean you don’t have mirrors in your house, or you just don’t care. Gratitude comes when you have little, but choose to appreciate what little you have. These are the kinds of lessons learned as we accumulate life experiences as we grow older.
In July 1972, Hurricane Agnes ravaged several towns in Pennsylvania. As a nursing student I was tasked to triage displaced families as they arrived at the local evacuation center. Some individuals lost every possession they owned in the terrible flooding that followed the storm. Others suffered the destruction of their property and loss of irreplaceable keepsakes and valuable documents. Still others suffered various injuries when damaged structures collapsed.
I felt drawn to the elderly couples that shuffled through the door, fully expecting the loss and grief of the natural disaster to be far more debilitating in that age group. Imagine my surprise when after hours of listening to their stories it became clear that they were comforting me— not the other way around!
“Oh, Honey, don’t feel sorry for us. We’ve suffered greater losses than this over the years and bounced back. We lived through the Great Depression! The things we lost mean nothing compared to if we had lost each another. People matter, not things.”
This morning I watched a YouTube video of a few Carolina Panthers football players dancing the “Nae Nae” with a young cancer patient. This “cutie patootie” stood without assistance on the football field with his IV stand for support (knee-length shorts and hat backwards), surrounded by players in uniform swaying and jiving to the rap music as if absolutely nothing else in the world was amiss. How happy he seemed! The odds are this little fellow will never play football in his lifetime even if he does get an opportunity to grow up and move past this current illness. Dancing will not cure him of his cancer, but it hasn’t stopped him doing what he loves to do.
Those of us that watched the video are much better people having witnessed his courage and determination to overcome his obvious challenges. We were once again reminded that there are moments of joy (even in suffering) that turn into exceptional memories that neither the ravage of diseases or time can take from us.
There are indeed individuals that could live a thousand years and never learn to be grateful for what they have because they choose to interpret what happens to them as an excuse to be negative. Oh, woe is me! It’s a scientific fact that choosing to be grateful and happy with the cards you are dealt definitely increases your odds of aging well. People with firm a faith in a Higher Being and belief in a compassionate after-life do even better than that. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow. Accepting a power greater than your own implies a willingness to submit and accept a destiny that you have little control over but to choose whether to suffer and whine, or fight with grace and dignity until the very end.
EXPRESSION: Many years ago my young son asked me, “Momma, are you a “Tigger” or an “Eeyore”?” referring to the characters in the “Winnie the Pooh” books. I thought about it for a moment, and my answer was that sometimes I was a Tigger, happily bouncing around celebrating life to the fullest. Other times I was Eeyore, feeling sorry for myself when things didn’t go the way I wanted.
“I want to be a Tigger all the time!” he replied. Don’t we all? There is no bigger downer than when someone expresses negativity when by all account they should be celebrating the blessings they have forgotten or choose to ignore. There is no better example of “humbleness” than someone who smiles through their pain, focusing not on themselves but on others. I’m not talking about self-made martyrs, mind you. I am referring to those among us who choose to see the glass half full regardless of what monumental life challenges they face.
Some things can’t be changed, and aging is at the top of that list. Our bodies are machines that sustain life until there is a breakdown. Eventually even the repairs falter and replacement parts become difficult to find. The process is the same for all of us; we are born, we live, and then we die. That’s just common sense, right?
One of my most vivid memories is of walking into the hospice room of a dear friend who was in the throes of the final stages of a brain tumor. As I approached her bed, by rote I asked her how she was doing. With her eyes closed and barely a whisper she responded “Well, I’m still alive, aren’t I?” and then she smiled. Clearly she was dying and had every reason in the world to be disappointed, angry or fearful, but she chose to die as she lived…happy. It didn’t change the outcome of her destiny one iota.
What a wake and funeral we had for her! We laughed, we cried (of course we were sad that she would no longer physically be with us), and we smiled without ceasing at all the memories collectively shared of this remarkable lady. I fully intend to keep my promise to her, determined to live life to the fullest as she had done. I’m still alive, aren’t I?
We are placed on this earth for a reason, some of us for a short time and others for longer. Nobody gets out of here alive. All that we “acquire” on earth (riches, beauty, physical pain, mental limitations, personal hardships, etc…) is left behind when our bodies fail. We are remembered and judged accordingly (true or false) by the memories and perceptions others choose to keep of our time spent together.
How will YOU be remembered?
Trust me, it won’t be by your wrinkles and gray hairs, I swear!