Getting old... it's something that I have been dreading for most of my life. I can remember, even as a child, feeling that bit of sadness on my birthdays as I realized that I was getting ever closer to adulthood. In my mind, being an adult would mean losing the magic, the freedom, and the innocence of childhood. It would mean giving up things and people that I loved. It scared me.
In most ways that never changed. As I approached each new stage of life I would feel that familiar feeling of loss and fear of the unknown. I guess maybe I don't handle change very well. Graduating high school, going to college, graduating college, leaving for graduate school... all these events that were supposed to be exciting brought on the fear and the sadness of leaving the familiar and safe
spaces that I loved.
And my wedding day... my poor husband. I was so in love and excited to marry him. The wedding was everything I dreamed of but then that awful moment came when we were leaving, and it hit me that I was stepping from one life to another. I was still in love and excited but also sad and scared. Having children certainly didn't cure me of this. Watching them grow and change is one of the most fulfilling things of my life but also one of the hardest. With every new stage, I find myself mourning the loss of the previous. It is something I will never understand or be able to adequately describe.
So, all that being said, maybe you can understand just a little bit of why I have dreaded getting older. All the fear and sadness of letting go of the past and moving forward into unknown things. Oh, and the wrinkles, grey hair, aches, and pains... they sure don't help.
As I approached a dreaded milestone birthday last summer all of these feelings came to a head. I found myself stuck and afraid and trying to cling to the past. I was dwelling on all of the things I felt I was losing and leaving behind and all of the dreams and goals that had never been realized. I was paralyzed with grief and fear and sadness. The birthday came and went and I survived. And now, I am happy to say that I have found a path forward that is bringing me joy and contentment that I have never before experienced.
If I had to sum up the change that has happened within me, I would have to say that I have realized that I am not GETTING older but I am GROWING older. That may not seem to be a big distinction to you but it has made all the difference to me. Getting older is something that happens to me. I have no choice or no control. Growing older is something I choose. It is a way of life that I control each day with the way I think and the choices I make.
With this new mindset, I have made peace with my age. You might even say I have embraced it. Growing older is a gift I have received. My goal is no longer to try and stay young but to grow older gracefully. For me, that means slowing down and listening to myself. When I do that I realize that through all the hard things the younger me faced, I was learning. I was storing up wisdom that the older me can take the time to process and share. All the dreams and goals that I thought were unfulfilled were really just waiting in the background; waiting for me to be ready to embrace them fully and with grace and wisdom. This is a gift I treasure. I have found that I like me. I like the girl I was, the young woman I was, and the older woman I am becoming. I see her and I appreciate the way she lived and loved and all of the things she learned. I want to take her with me as I grow. She has become a good friend to me.
As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh. Sitting at the table beside me is a group of women older than me. Probably a couple of decades older. They are laughing and gossiping and speaking in the traditional Pittsburghese that I love to hear. Listening to them, I hear women who have lived hard stories and faced change and loss. I see lines on their faces and grey hairs on their heads, but I also see the girls inside them as they giggle and make plans. I hear and see women who have wisdom and peace as they grow older. They are making me smile and I no longer fear becoming like them.
And so I choose to GROW older today, and every day, with grace and wisdom. I hope the younger me would look at me and not fear age, but embrace each new stage of life with joy and peace. I wish she could know that she is not getting older but is growing older and every experience she has faced has been worth it. Nothing has been wasted.