Always honour the aging within you

Once again today, it’s time to say “happy birthday.” Not once but 30,000 times because that’s the number of our fellow citizens who, on this one day, will turn over the calendar to age 60.
It would have been a very different picture had we lived 300 years ago. In the middle 1600s, the average life expectancy was just 17.5 years. Although life expectancy doubled to 35 years in the 1700s, at the turn of this century it was still stagnated at age 48.
In our century, however, that figure has zoomed to 76.1–and many of us will live much longer.
When you look at it that way, a total of 30,000 60th birthdays in one day is indeed a wonderful and unprecedented gift of life.
So then who do we celebrate in black? Solid black napkins and plates obviously meant to be used for unwanted birthdays. Bouquets of prunes on the table, black balloons hanging from the ceiling, and ageism birthday cards.
Things like that are seldom a joke but rather a deep expression of something we find hard to accept–our own personal aging. Aging is something that happens to other people, not to us.
But the obvious truth, as Dr. Emma Justes puts it, is that “aging is the one thing we all do with all the rest of humanity from the time we’re born to the time we die.”
Yet in a society that overvalues youth, it’s hard not to be terrified of wrinkles and grey hair, and hard not to dread that long block of retirement that society mandated at the end of life.
In a survey called “Birthdays in the 90s,” American Greetings discovered most people wish they were younger than they are. Those in their mid- to late 30s think the ideal age is 30, 50-year-olds would prefer to be 40, and persons in their 60s would choose to be 45.
What an odd way to live life! Looking back when the real excitement is forward. It sounds like something fanciful from Alice in Wonderland, where the Queen remarked, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
Only in this case, its an all too real societal bias that each of us is tempted to internalize.
Ironically, our respect for aging has declined as longevity has increased. In centuries past, it was an honour to grow old and few resented the privilege.
But today, says Justes, older people are excluded from society, isolated to keep them from reminding younger people of their own aging. And fear of aging is rampant.
That fear of aging, advises Justes, must be replaced by “honouring the aging within you.”
Justes, a professor of pastoral counselling, says “the key lies in being able to welcome aging within our own selves, to see that we are all beautiful at whatever age we happen to be.”
So how about you? How will you deal with our own personal aging? Will you go to great lengths to cover it up? Will you laugh nervously when other people talk about it? Will you celebrate with black?
Or will you, in the words of Dr. Justes, “honour the aging within you?” Will you give yourself credit for a life well-lived and trust your ability to maximize each day of the future? Will you refuse to live your life backward?
And will you remind yourself every day to offer a prayer of thanks for the wonderful gift of long life.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist.

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