Come Grow Old With Me…
I recently passed my 77th birthday. Except for the insistence of my children, I would not celebrate my birthday any more than any other day that I wake in good health and good cheer with something to look forward to. At my age I savor every blessing: sunsets, snowstorms, walks along the water with my Yorkie, a hug from a grandchild.
When I reached middle age, I tried to ignore my birthdays because they forced me to think about growing old—shriveling up, losing hair and teeth, preoccupied with a plethora of health problems. And, of course, they made me think of death, and I would get that sick, sinking feeling in my chest.
I am incapable of quitting on a book before the final page or leaving a movie before it’s over. I have this irrepressible need to know how the story ends—even a bad story. So I had real trouble accepting the fact that one day I would stop and the world would keep going and I would not know how the story finally turned out.
Several years ago, I came to terms with that. As I recuperated from congestive heart failure and nearly “bought the farm” as they say, I finally accepted the inevitability of the future and the end of mine. From then on, I began to look on aging as another of life’s adventures. Despite the aches and pains and certain conclusion ahead, life could still be enjoyed.
Elizabeth Wharton made a profound observation about growing old when she wrote: “In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
That expresses exactly what I believe and how I have moved through this final stage of Erik Erickson’s life cycle.
At this stage, one learns some of life’s most important lessons. I now understand why old people are often considered wise. It is because we’ve lived long enough to have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, of what is likely to result from certain actions. I’ve also learned how much fun it is to be able to be a curmudgeon on occasion and say important things that people don’t want to hear.
I still regret that I won’t get to see how it all turns out, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’ve come to believe, however, that endings are determined by what happens in the present. And that is something I can do something about.