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Growing old gracefully in a youth-obsessed world

There is reluctance in our culture to grow old gracefully. We see it everywhere we turn: we find another answer to the aging problem. Though we cannot stop the birthdays from rolling around, the advertisements say we can stop the wrinkles, sagging and gray hair that is certain to accompany us throughout our lives..if we have enough money.

Many years ago, I took the three kids to the beach. It was certainly the ideal time to take two adolescent age boys: the day after Labor Day. All young people were back in school, (we home schooled and this proved to be an advantage to the pocketbook as prices drop around $100 a night on ocean front rooms). Anyway, I explained to the boys that this would probably be “Senior Citizen Week” at the Beach and sure enough the beach was swarming with retirees enjoying a last bit of summer vacation. It was like Spring Break during college week, only this week was for the older generation.

It was quite precious as I observed many older couples holding hands and walking on the beach and enjoying the beauty around them. However, my boys were a different story. My youngest approached me with a look of horror one afternoon after boogie-boarding. He proclaimed, “Oh Mom, it was awful!”

“What on earth, honey, could be that awful?” I said, thinking he had been stung or bit or something. “

Oh Mom, there was an old lady. She was about your age and she was she was in a bikini!!!” he bellowed. “Oh my, she was old.”

I chuckled, “Well, I’ll bet you didn’t look twice!”

He replied, “Oh Mom, I didn’t look once”!

I heard the two of them many times that week warning each other to not look or they’d be sorry! As a mom, I loved it. Many lessons were taught that week as I emphasized the beauty of the inside of a person and the importance of choosing a spouse someday that they are not only attracted to outwardly, but they love inside. too, because quite frankly, everyone is going to age and this is just the way it is.

“Old” definitely has a perspective about it, doesn’t it? Then, for my 12- year-old, “old” was his mom’s age! I’m sure your children are probably the same way. I remember as a young person thinking that 30 or 40 was just ancient! Now, “old” is way up there past 100, let me tell you! Though there is nothing we can do about the birthdays rolling around, there is an attitude adjustment we can make to be graceful and accepting about the aging process:

1. Realize that though age is just a number, we must take care of this body or it will grow old long before it’s time. Many diseases can be avoided by deliberate actions such as: eating, drinking, avoiding stress (when possible) and exercising. I know this is not a fail-proof way of avoiding the illnesses we all fear, but we need to be proactive about taking care of ourselves now and this will help us feel better now as well as help prevent problems.

Joining a club like the YMCA is an awesome way to keep fit, but choosing to walk on your lunch break, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking a long way from the door where we shop, are also proactive choices we can make for health. If you have limited mobility, do what you can to keep active in mind and body.

2. Have fun everyday! Do something you enjoy on a daily basis. Hobbies and interests can be a great way of experiencing enjoyment and putting the fun back into your life.

3. Relax in a way you enjoy. I know one man who enjoys building a fire in a fire pit and sitting by it in the evening. Many women love a bubble bath. Reading a good book is one way to escape stress for a little while.

4. Surround yourself with positive and fun-loving people. I have several friends who make me laugh. I admit, it is not hard to make me laugh. I easily laugh, but these particular people give me perspective in a humorous way so that I just love being around them!

5. Forget the magazine and television images that definitely have “air-brushed” written across their foreheads. Please, let’s not be naive and buy into the silly notion that there is only one way to be beautiful or handsome! Beauty comes from within and radiates to the outside continually. A person can have it all together outwardly, but choose to be bitter, sarcastic, biting, and plain ugly on the inside and I do not need to tell you, ugly projects onto this person’s outward appearance.

6. Enjoy the wisdom that age has brought to you. You have seen life for many decades now and know things that you did not know as a young person. Be willing to impart your wisdom upon the younger generations and share the wealth of knowledge you have accumulated over the years. You can see trouble coming a mile away and could be used to help the younger generations steer clear of the dangers that await them. I know mistakes are inevitable and many young folks have to make their own mistakes, but I have found a few that are willing to learn from my mistakes and you can too! Find a cause, church or charity that would benefit from your wisdom.

7. Learn something new every day. Take a class, read a book, or study something on the Internet. If nothing more, open a dictionary and learn a new word. (You can find a free dictionary on the Internet.) I have seen many senior citizens get the college degree they always wanted after the age of 65.

It is a truth to say that one of the only things inevitable in life is change. We can go with that change and enjoy the ride or we can mourn the youth that has escaped us. Youth, I have heard, is wasted on the young. But we can be youthful and fun-loving in our life without being childish. You have heard the little saying: “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.” This thought reminds us to have fun.

But there is actually something else we need to remember and that is God is our only constant and will not change. Whenever I have whined to the Lord about my life, situation, or age, I am reminded of this verse: “And even to your old age I am he; and even to the gray hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you.” Isaiah 46:4

– Kimberly Morgan, MA is a wife, mom, and bereavement counselor for Hospice.