“Your hair’s getting long,” he said, noticing my coronavirus coiffure. Gerry has such an eye for beauty and style that the home he and Bob share was once featured on the glossy pages of the Inspired Living as one of the loveliest in the city. I held my breath, sensing he was about to be honest with me. “You look younger,” he said.
I smiled. I thanked him. I didn’t tell him it wasn’t my hair. I was about to turn 65 and I was getting younger.
Now there’s no denying that the laugh lines in my face have deepened in the last decade, but for years I have rejected the constant cultural messages that aging is a sentence to pain, weakness, and disability. Twenty years ago when I bought the building that had 24 stairs to the second floor flat, people asked with concern, “Aren’t you worried you won’t be able to climb all those stairs someday?” I was 45.
For the last two decades I’ve gone up and down those stairs. For the last five years each winter I’ve trained for the Trek Up the Tower, climbing 40 flights in under 15 minutes. Instead of planning for bad knees, I plan to take one step at a time until I can’t.
Centenarians are a powerful source of inspiration to me. Now I may only live to 91 like my Grandma Anna. But I don’t anticipate having 208 great grandchildren in my lifetime like her either.
My teachers have been everywhere. Had I paid more attention I could have learned from my children when they were little. I focused instead on my lawyering, my activism, and my survival in an unhealthy marriage. Even as a parent, playing didn’t coming easily.
Others showed me how. Joyce, who despite hearing every sort of sorrow as a school counselor always had others hearing laughter when in her company. John, who understood the world would not come to an end if you took two weeks off each holiday season to celebrate and recalibrate. Angela, who thinks every small victory is cause for a joyful squeal, a sprinkled cupcake, or a sparkling sequin.
One of these three teachers of youthful exuberance died young. A second recently received a diagnosis of a degenerative brain disease. The third is my living role model to whom I pay close attention. I can be a slow learner, but I am a conscientious student willing to do her homework. So, as I reject our society’s ceaseless messages about what it means to age, I intend to play whenever possible and put my mind in the thought that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
A new semester is about to start for this student. I’m going back to school. Next month I start studies on how to support people as an end-of-life coach. My intention is to enter with “beginner’s mind.” I have the childlike thrill of getting my back-to-school supplies. But first, I’m going to do a puzzle and drink some hot chocolate.
What beliefs do you hold about aging?
How do you stay young at heart?
Will you have some play time this holiday season?