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French author, Jules Renard, penned many pithy sayings that ring true and have stuck in my mind. A couple of my favorites include, “Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted” and “When I think of all the books that are left for me to read, I am certain of future happiness.”
Good stuff, am I right? Recently, I stumbled upon another Renard quote that got me thinking, one about handling aging.
“It’s not how old you are but how you are old.”
Oh, my. Oh, yes.
As I celebrate still another birthday, I am less focused on how old I am than how I would like to be old, the attitudes and practices that might give the later years of my life meaning and purpose and, hopefully, allow me to be a blessing to others.
Depending on how specific you get, the possibilities are myriad. But at the end of the day, I find it most helpful to think in terms of attitude, an awareness of qualities that will guide me to a vibrant old age that is more than a number.
Here are a few that feel crucial to me. Maybe they will feel that way to you too.
Handling Aging: It’s How You Roll
Roll with the punches, don’t let the little stuff become big stuff. If it’s not going to be important in a year, it isn’t important now, so channel your inner Elsa and let it go.
Roll with laughter too. Look for the humor in life! If you’re paying attention, you won’t have to look very far and that’s a good thing.The old adage about laughter being the best medicine has a lot of truth to it.
It’s How You Are Involved
As we get older, the temptation to disengage from volunteering or serving is strong.
If you’re one of those people who always put her hand up in younger years, stepping up to the plate for committees and leadership at church, kid’s schools, or community organizations, an “I already gave at the office” attitude is understandable. That kind of thing takes a lot of time!
However, serving can be fun and allow us to feel and be relevant as we age. I’m not suggesting we volunteer for everything, just that we avoid disengaging entirely.
Instead of trying to do all the things, pick one or two causes that you really care about, and devote the best of yourself to them.
It’s How You Are Interested
The interest I’m talking about here is interest in other people.
Be someone who asks good questions, who takes the time to really delve into people’s stories and gets to know them well. You might be surprised, even fascinated, by what they’ve seen and done and thought.
Being interested in others is part of what keeps life interesting.
It’s How You Are Active
Depending on a whole bunch of factors that we may not have control over when handling aging, staying active as we age can be harder for some people than others. So, the definition of “active” is going to vary widely from one person to the next.
Some folks might be running marathons into their eighties. For others, working their way up to walking a mile, or even just around the block, can be a goal that requires some effort. And that’s okay.
The important thing is to keep moving as best you can, for as long as you can.
It’s How You Are Adventurous
If the word “adventurous” makes you nervous, I know that I’m not suggesting you suddenly take up skydiving.
(But if you want to, go for it! I think that sounds amazing! Just know that I will be standing safely and sanely below on terra firma, cheering you on and praying your chute opens.)
To me, being adventurous simply means trying new things. It’s the willingness to remain curious and expand our experience as we age.
That certainly could mean trying a new and challenging sport. It could also mean traveling to a foreign country or region of the country. It could involve auditing a class at the community college or possibly going whole hog and earning a degree.
But when it comes to this portion of handling aging, it could also be as simple as taking up a new craft, leading your grandkids on a hike, joining a club, or deciding to read some books in a genre you’ve never tried before. (Steampunk, anyone?)
It’s How You Are Relational
Study after study has shown that people with friends are happier and healthier as they age than people who are isolated. But here’s the deal – cultivating and tending to friendships takes effort. It’s important to be intentional about your relationships.
Write a letter or email, pick up the phone, remember birthdays, drop some cookies off on the doorstep, follow up and show up.
Put it on your calendar if you have to, but do it. Maintain relationships is an investment of time that will pay you back tenfold.
It’s How You Are Grateful
Sometimes as we age, it can seem like there’s less to be grateful for.
Health worries, money worries, family worries, and the general feeling that the world is going to hell in a handbasket can make us feel like we’ve got a whole lot less to be thankful for than we did in years past.
And I can understand how it’s possible to feel that way. But it really is only a feeling. The truth is, there is always something to be grateful for, always.
Recognizing life’s small blessings and undeserved gifts may require a little more effort in some seasons of life than others, but if you open your eyes, you’ll find them. Once again, write it down if you need to. In fact, I highly recommend it.
It’s a funny thing, but the more time you take to be grateful, the more you’ll notice things you’re grateful for.
Handling Aging: It’s How You are Gracious
Oh, how I love a good Maxine cartoon! That cranky, gray-haired old lady with the snappy comebacks and bad attitude always makes me laugh. If you’ve read my books, you’re probably not surprised to learn that I love a good curmudgeon.
But the thing about cranky Maxine, or snooty, critical Abigail Burgess Wynne from my Cobbled Court novels, and the obnoxious and arrogant Oscar Glazier from my upcoming book, Esme Cahill Fails Spectacularly, is they’re fictional.
Encountering imaginary curmudgeons can be a lot of fun, a real treat! Encountering them in real life?
Yeah, not so much.
If aging gracefully is something you’d dearly love to do as you figure out handling aging, then do your best to be gracious. Put others before yourself. Forgive quickly and sincerely. Be quick to encourage and slow to criticize. Give up gossip, speaking ill of others, and argument for the sake of it.
I’m not suggesting you should be a pushover or doormat, simply that you be kind and do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you. Especially in our golden years, the Golden Rule will serve us well.
It’s How You Are Faithful
A 2018 study of 1,000 seniors found that those who hold a strong faith in God and pray regularly report an improved sense of well-being.
Your experience and practice may differ from mine, but the findings of this study ring so true for me. The cords of my Christian faith have held me together in good times and bad, in youth and age.
It’s been a long road. When it comes to following Jesus’ path, I continue to stumble and struggle, take two steps forward and one step back and I suppose I always will. But living out my faith, however imperfectly, has made my journey fuller, more relevant, and more joyous.
It’s How We Celebrate
Today is my birthday.
I’m somewhat baffled as to how this can be. It seems like I just celebrated a birthday about five minutes ago. Every year seems to go more quickly than the one before, I am finding.
I won’t kid you; wrinkles aren’t my favorite thing. I do miss my old face. And I could really do without some of the aches and pains that are creeping into my joints or spending money on hair color that I’d rather use to buy books or fabric.
But as long as my birthdays keep coming, I’ll keep celebrating them. Because every year is a gift, an undeserved chance to do more, learn more, and become more.
As far as my old face, I try to remember something else that good old Jules Renard said, “Wrinkles are engraved smiles.”
I’m collecting a few more engravings every year, and isn’t that grand?