|Mom at 91|
Now that I am seventy-one, it is interesting to look back at the
perspectives on aging I held when I was forty-two. This column
was written for publication on January 19, 1984, about two weeks
after my forty-second birthday. How young I was then; and yet,
many of my views have not changed...quite amazing.
The little blond girl hugged her mommy tightly around the neck "Mommy,"
she whispered, "I want to be a midget." Tears began to run down her cheeks
and her voice quivered as she continued. "That way I won't ever have to
grow up and get old."
This recollection of my first awareness of the fear of getting old occurred
when I was barely four years old, living in a heavily ethnic community
which had a cross section of ages and cultures, and in which aging and
death were part of everyday life. Even at that tender age, I had become
aware that the end of life seemed to follow a period of old age, and I was
determined to remain small so that I would not have to endure the
difficulties of old age and subsequent death.
How strange to look back upon that experience and to recall the very
real fear I was experiencing as a small child. Being old was, in reality,
far away in terms of chronological years, and yet somehow even then I
sensed that much of what happened to and "old" person was not something
I desired to experience for myself.
These memories came flooding back to me as I sat in church last Sunday,
listening to the guest pastor speaking about aging from his perspective
as a professional person who works fulltime with the aging in our society.
"We spend the first third of our lives preparing for the second third," he
stated, "but we seldom spend any part of the second third preparing
for the last third." His words struck a tender spot with me.
Slowly, slowly the realization began to dawn that the speaker was indeed
correct in his assessment of our society. We place such a heavy emphasis
on youth- remaining youthful and young-looking, keeping "in shape"
(whatever that means), and preparing for a successful career, that we
give little or no thought to the years beyond retirement. And if statistical
projections are correct, many of us who are now 45 or below have an
excellent chance of living to be one-hundred. This means a full thirty-five
years of living after retirement from one's life occupation, thirty-five
years of time to do- what?
Several years ago a very special book of poetry about aging was written
by Elise Maclay. Entitled Green Winter, this little book was brought
to my attention by a sensitive and caring friend who was also touched
by the words of the visiting pastor. And because I feel that these poems
speak so deeply and so well about some of the fears and problems of
aging, because they put into words far better than I ever could some of
the realities of being "old", I am sharing just a few of them with you.
Perhaps they will cause you to regard older people with more care and
love and respect; perhaps they will cause you to begin caring about
your own aging process, about your own future "old-ness".
I Hate the Way I Look
I mind being wrinkled
and stooped and shaky
When I look in the mirror
I feel betrayed. As if a
dear friend had turned
into an ugly beast.
But that's unfair.
My body is still my
It struggles valiantly to
do my bidding.
I should be kinder to it.
The years have been
pelting it and I haven't
I eat too much, drink too
much, get angry too
Actually, my body has
forgiven me a lot.
I should be more
charitable to it now.
When young people look
away in distaste, I
should say: Never mind,
old friend-body, they
don't know all you've
When they're old one
day, too, I hope they
take it as well as you.
In the Way
I feel I'm in the way.
Nonsense, I am in the way,
Though the family tells
me I'm not.
No sense priding myself
in not making demands.
They have to help me
dress, bathe, follow the
They have to take me to
They can't leave me
alone without worrying.
And they have to look at
me and see, beyond the
ugliness of my wrinkled
face and wavering
hands, the specter of
their own deterioration.
The young people, of course,
don't believe they will
ever be old.
But I am often an
embarrassment to them.
They try to remember
the way I used to be and
pay homage to that.
They don't know that I
am here, imprisoned in
old age, trying to make
contact with the world.
What can I do, Lord?
What should I do?
I love them and long to
communicate with them
and cannot bear to be
in the way.
Is there something You
can teach them through
Is there something You
want me to learn?
Help me, Lord, to understand
why I am still here.
Don't Let Me Lose My Sense of Humor
It seems to me I used to
Was the world funnier
in those days? Of course not.
It was the same mixture of
darkness and light, sadness
and silliness, doom and delight,
then as now, and I used to
get a lot of laughs out of it.
Things haven't changed
as much as I have. In fact,
now that I stop to think
about it, a lot of the things
that annoy me nowadays
are the same things that
used to tickle my funnybone.
Do you heal funnybones, God?
Of course you do.
And the idea makes me
(How very interesting to me that in the past ten years, so
much of the poetry I've written has been about the journey
of aging. Perhaps it takes actually being an elder to be able
to reflect honestly about what aging really means. And for
a wonderful book on aging, I recommend The Gift of Years
by Joan Chittister.)