I believe that growing older has many gifts. I started realizing this somewhere around my sixtieth birthday. It was freeing to shed the vanities of my younger years, always counting each wrinkle, each pound, each year beyond those magical teens and twenties, maybe thirties, when I had the right to describe myself as “young.”
As I fitted myself into my new sixties image, I started reflecting on my early years. Those were years of discontent for the most part, always looking back at what was a mistake or what was not given when I was younger, always longing for something different and better in the future: more money if I landed that magical job, better looks when I dropped some pounds or found the cash for some surgical tweaking, a better house, a better life.
But in my sixties it started dawning that this was, to borrow the phrase from that wonderful movie starring Jack Nicholson, “as good as it gets.” And somehow it seemed pretty darned good after all. I quit a job that brought me good income but much stress, and took a lower level job to which I look forward to each day that I work. I shed the worries of raising my children and became proud of each off on their own, and found joy as never before in enjoying my grandchildren at a safer distance. One generation distanced they were to be indulged with that same unconditional love that my grandparents and single aunts had given me. And I found myself finding pleasure in much smaller things: the beauty of a perfect day, a family gathering, a holiday with no agenda, the gift of an achingly touching book, movie or piece of music.
And slowly it started dawning on me that this happiness was coming not from a better life, but simply from viewing life from the finite end, knowing that now my productive days might be numbered and a decision to embrace each one with gratitude. I started noticing older couples walking down the street, holding hands and almost glowing like sweethearts. And I understood that they were appreciating something that they might have taken for granted when they were younger, the gift of this day with each other and the time and health to take a walk.
I know that as I grow older that pieces will be taken away from my health, my looks, my abilities. But that knowledge now makes me all the more determined to make use of and find all there is to appreciate in the days that I have now. I have heard that the traditional Chinese do not celebrate birthdays until the sixtieth, which is considered the age of wisdom. So as I watch the commercials for anti-aging products that preach the importance of being young and looking young, I enjoy the peace that only this age has brought me. This is my gift for now. And, for the record, I have never been happier in my life.
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