We are always growing older. It’s a fact of life. We begin to grow older from the moment we are born. When someone is young, we say that the person is growing up. Growing up implies the physical changes that the years bring to the body as well as learning the life lessons required for the next stage of life. At some stage, usually after adolescence, but not always, we drop the language of growing up and we start talking about growing old and being old.
I contend that growing older and being old are not the same.
As long as we remain on this earth, we grow older. Being old, however, is a state of mind. One can be chronologically young and be “old,” while an 80 or 90 year old can lead an active and full life. We call this young at heart for it is in the heart that age becomes irrelevant and attitude means everything.
I love what the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said,
“It is forbidden to be old. Grow older but do not be old: that is to say, do not be bitter and despairing. Do not oppose reality, but do not prevent life from fulfilling its potential to bring forth new things, right up to your very last breath.”
I want to continue to grow old like that. I want to live each and every day of my life with vitality, enthusiasm, enjoyment and with acceptance for who I am, where I am in my life cycle and yes, with the reality that one day I will die.
Growing old is not for the faint of heart. Moving into the third stage of life can be daunting. Physical challenges, loss of loved ones, isolation, loneliness, the emphasis on youth in our culture and the societal dismissal, disdain and subsequent invisibility of elders certainly contributes to the dilemma.
AND, growing older has the potential for being a rich, fulfilling, and incredibly stimulating, fun and adventurous time of life. It is a time to reap the rewards of one’s life lessons and be true to who we have come to be.
Being old, however, is quite another experience. It is giving up on the enjoyment and joys of being alive and living in suffering and despair. It is a death before its time.
I want to grow old in a realistic way. I want to embrace all aspects of living with curiosity, enthusiasm, vitality, connections, awareness and intention to be completely alive. I want to do this with my eyes wide open; aware that changes are already happening and will continue; that physical and mental decline is inevitable. I want to meet this head on………realistic, aware, alive and in my ageless heart.
I am learning to accept growing older. The older I become, the more I am coming to appreciate this as a great gift. And, as with any wonderful gift that I get, I treasure and savor the unwrapping, the unfolding and in this case, find the gift of life itself.
By Roberta Teller