Barbara Emrys

Another Happy Birthday!

You’ve heard the old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It makes a lot of sense. It does seem unfair that so many blessings should be lavished on the ones who take them for granted. It seems illogical to hand serious life choices to those who probably lack the wisdom to choose well.

But, come on. Youth takes real stamina. It takes every ounce of our strength and flexibility. Being human is a challenge from the start. At birth, we’re helpless. We’re mindless. We’ve been recruited to play a long-term game, where everyone knows the rules but us. We have to learn fast. We need to be physically fit and mentally agile. Ahead of us loom the trials of childhood, of puberty, and a thousand crushing revelations along the way. Human existence is a rough sport, as much as it is an exhilarating one. It takes a strong constitution to compete and survive.

So, of course we get tired. Eventually, we’re out of breath and disillusioned. We gripe about getting old, because old age can really hurt. And we’re not wrong about the younger generation. (“Darn those whipper-snappers! They don’t know how lucky they are!”) Aging comes with limitations that youth can hardly understand. It also comes with opportunities that would mystify the very young.

If you’ve already lived to be a senior citizen, you know what the world expects of you; but you can also transcend those expectations. You can continue to age on your terms. By now, you possess your own kind of charisma. Desirability takes on another quality as you mature, particularly when wisdom is added to the mix. If you’ve learned the hard lessons of youth, and apply them with good humor, life can get pretty interesting. It can even get sexy. In fact, if you’re feeling pessimistic about aging, let me offer an adage of my own: “Old age is almost always wasted on the elderly.”

Old age is full of open windows, just like every other phase of life. The mind doesn’t grow old, but its stories do. It’s up to you to change them. Most people see things one way, but there are many ways to see. Instead of looking for familiar scenery, try seeking out the strange and the new. Be a friend to change. Draw on your well-earned wisdom to inform you differently. While most older people think back wistfully on youth’s beauty and enviable prowess, you can choose to focus on now, where powers are accessible that once eluded you. Let me name a few….

Neutrality: Remaining neutral may not sound like a superpower to you, but an open mind raises awareness to magical heights. Being impartial means being a witness to life, while at the same time being life’s most valuable messenger. You have the chance to build immunities to ‘common knowledge’ and the drama it causes. You even get to step out of the drama altogether. Instead, you can choose to give comfort to the people around you– to be their refuge from fear and insanity.

Anonymity: The elderly aren’t noticed as they were in youth. This hits them the hardest. They worry about being ignored and irrelevant. They may actually feel invisible, but even this is an opportunity. Anonymity is freedom– ask any celebrity. When you’re not in the spotlight, you have the time to look and learn. When you’re not in the fight, different strengths emerge; you can hear beyond the words and see below the surface of things. You can view life in its totality. And, like a god, you can laugh at the game.

Selflessness. To me, selflessness means you don’t have to be you, the character you’ve had to explain and defend for so many decades. Older people tend to get settled in their roles and become more them than ever. ‘Not being you’ means more than shedding an idea of yourself; it’s also about letting go of the obsessions that came with it. It’s about throwing out many of the characteristics that used to define you, and making room for selfless love…

Selfless Love: What becomes most important as you age? The people you love, of course; but there are things you can offer them now that weren’t imaginable earlier in your life. So, go on– love without expectations or conditions. Love your body the same way. Love like a euphoric child again. Express your love everywhere, without inhibition or apology. Love is the place of safety that everyone craves. You can finally be its face and its voice– its healing, inspiring force.

Try loving life– life!– for all its wonder and its turmoil. Love life, even as it burns your cells back to pure energy again. When you’re happy and generous, the world lights up in front of you. Don’t waste precious energy on self-pity. Having lost so much over time, there’s nothing left to mourn. Having accomplished so much, there’s nothing to regret. In other words, there’s no reason to squander the wonders of old age. You have depth and resources you couldn’t imagine having in your youth. Call on them.

No matter how old you are, or how your body likes to remind you of past wars, welcome each day with grace and resilience…and wish yourself another happy birthday, with every rising sun!

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