Close Connections: The real gifts of aging
Maybe it’s because I hardly recognize myself in the mirror some days. Maybe it’s because my body’s aching from carrying music equipment. Maybe it’s because I get scared just thinking about doing a cartwheel. But some days I’m having trouble finding the gifts aging brings.
Surely there are some – gifts of aging. Not talking about movie and restaurant discounts, or senior discount Wednesdays at Goodwill, or trying to feel better because, as a group, elders have more financial and political clout than we used to. Just because the Irish proverb says, “The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune,” doesn’t mean my bow doesn’t feel frayed.
I guess I’ve always assumed that each part of our life has unique, unworked-for blessings. Aren’t there things enjoyed by most youth just by virtue of being young? How about a body that moves easily without pain? How about running just because it’s fun? How about believing that death happens to other people? How about that feeling of invincibility that allows for all sorts of “crazy,” risk-taking behaviors?
OK, so there must be some gifts that come from being older. Not like those listed on “hotrodhearse.com:” “kidnappers are less interested in you, people stop viewing you as a hypochondriac, there’s nothing left to learn the hard way,” etc.
But seriously, what about “with age comes wisdom.” Now really, is every older person you know, wise? Uh, I don’t think so.
What about “with age comes the ability to see the larger picture of life”? Hmmm. I know lots of older folks who live in their own small worlds.
What about “with age comes compassion.” We might hope so, but do you hear yourself or others judging people’s behavior without understanding their perspective?
I hate to say it, but I cannot come up with many gifts of aging. Which leaves me with one thought: what we make of life, at any age, is the real gift. Here’s some ways to find the true gifts of aging:
- Believe in making meaning. Whatever comes our way, we have the ability to make our own meaning.
- Look for gifts. We can’t see what we don’t look for.
- Be thankful. Seeing what’s working for us makes us feel less a victim and allows for, maybe not happiness, but more peace of mind.
Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, survived Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic. What he learned from his experience was this: the one thing the Nazis could not take away from inmates was their ability to make meaning out of their experience.
After the war, Frankl created his therapeutic approach, logotherapy. He believed that any symptom we have (depression, anxiety, rage, etc.) is the result of the meaning we make of our life experiences. Much deeper than making lemonade out of the lemons life gives us, it’s a similar philosophy.
Whatever life deals us, we have the ability to decide what to do with it. Wishing you the wisdom to see your real gifts.
Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with THE STORYS duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.