Back in the 1980s my dad showed up for the family picnic in a striped blue shirt, plaid brown shorts, black socks, and dress shoes. Looking at him in mild horror, I whispered to my wife to please never let me dress like that. Just the other day I glanced in the mirror as I went forth to meet the day. I drew in my breath sharply. Plaid shorts, American flag T-shirt, black socks, and sandals! Oh no! What happened? I was not only more stooped like my Dad used to be, but somewhere in the last ten years I apparently had a stroke in the part of my brain that controls good taste in clothes.
When you’re young it never occurs to you that someday you’ll walk differently or visit a podiatrist (“What’s a podiatrist?” we said.) When your energy levels are surging and body responds without a hitch every time, you cannot imagine stumbling along or have trouble getting out of a chair. And, I suppose, you never think that someday you might develop different standards for life that place a low priority on many of the things you’ve admired your whole life.
The older I get the more I find myself wearing comfortable clothing. I used to buy fashionable shoes, often from Florsheim; now they hurt my feet and I wear tennis shoes and gardening clogs. I wear socks all of the time (because my feet are cold) and my farmer’s tan now stops at my ankles. Sweatshirts and sweatpants do well around the house in the winter. I used to dress in the current style; but have you noticed what’s in style these days? All the stores in the mall cater to young people and, even I could find something I liked, it would not fit my body that long ago lost the fight with gravity.
I value clothes that fit easily. I wear clothes a long time, until they wear out, actually. Why spend money on new clothes when you’re on a fixed income and you have plenty of things to wear (even if the garments you think of as new were purchased ten or more years ago)? Let me assure my children, lest they worry, that I will not go out in public in pajamas and slippers or wear clothes so old they advertise Eisenhower for president (“Ike, Ike, he’s our man!”). Nor will my photo appear on the web site, “People of Walmart.”
Here’s my point: aging brings us far more benefits than liabilities, even as we lose vision and mobility. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable inside the body I have, and I want to keep that perspective.
What other perspectives have come with age?
- We are more accepting.
Here’s an example: we’re a part of a wonderful church where we are totally welcome as we are. The 8:30 a.m. service is one in which we sing old hymns and I play the piano (something I haven’t done since I was in high school). Acceptance in this group has been immediate and unconditional. At our potlucks we commiserate about back surgeries and unashamedly bring pillows to sit on. We pray for each other’s children and never think about whether what someone is wearing is fashionable or not. We’ve been through the war, sat at deathbeds, and cried over wayward family members. We’re survivors who celebrate life together and rejoice in our wonderful God, who loves us.
- Experience provides a clearer perspective
When you’ve lived a long time you understand what is valuable and what is not.
- Friends, for example, are important. Popularity is not.
- Family, both by blood and by choice, are priceless.
- We listen to news broadcasts differently. Jesus said we would hear of wars and rumors of wars, that famine would come as would times of plenty. The important thing is that we belong to God and it’s his world. We won’t get out of it alive, anyway, and when we leave this world, a better one is waiting.
- We value people with integrity and have no use for pretense, showmanship, or politicians who create their belief systems based on public opinion polls.
- We recognize true heroes.
The media loves to give attention to those who “accomplish” things. But is it an accomplishment to reach my one hundredth birthday or is that a genetic hiccup? I’m happy for those who are still running marathons into their eighties, but most of us can’t achieve this and it falsely labels youthfulness as success. Recently ABC aired a nationally televised awards program in which someone who had recently undergone surgery to switch sexes was given a standing ovation for heroism. Please!
The elderly see through this utter nonsense. We may use wheelchairs and Depends, but we know that heroes are motivated by a love for people and respect for truth.
We have made peace with our past.
The perspective of years helps you separate and discard painful experiences because we know they do not define who we are. Only recently did my wife, Karon, help me see that I still clung to put-downs and thoughtless hurts in the past. I now realize that nursing that pain only hurts me and not the persons who did those things. I have chosen to lay aside my victim mentality and no longer focus on the pain of my past, my failures, or poor decisions. We are so much more than abuse, job loss, or bullying.
Forgiving everyone in your life, even those now dead, will bring you unimagined freedom and joy. In the New Testament, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. Jesus answered in the vernacular of his day, “without number!”
I thank God for my past and everyone I’ve been privileged to meet. Some have brought me pain. Others have been uncommonly kind and generous. All have enriched me and helped to shape me as I am today. I thank God for his grace that forgives me and his endless love and optimism that ceaselessly encourage me day after day. Not everyone will like me, marvelous as I am. Life’s experiences continue to stretch me and build my faith. And tomorrow will be a wonderful day!
David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.