I turned 68 last Thursday. I find that so perplexing that the number is almost meaningless, yet I know that I am far from the same person I was even a decade ago, I can’t grasp at all that 50 years have ripped by since I stood at high school dances hoping that good-looking freckled boy with the crooked grin was sauntering my way.
Getting older is just flat out confusing; while it is evidence, in its more grisly manifestations, of the basic corruption of the human body, it is even more strikingly evidence of the grace of God. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. My health remains dependably good. My brain still works – most of the time. In fact, if my hip didn’t hurt and my eyes didn’t water, I’d forget, lose track of the years, altogether. But they happened.
And they happened all for the better. At 68 I am finally comfortable in my own skin, wrinkled and worn as it now is. I am much more confident – in myself and in my God, who has, in 45 years of close contact, never failed me, gently letting me know in advance when awful things were about to transpire and then guiding, providing and blessing me and mine through every challenging event. I finally know how to do the things I do well enough to feel professional. My husband has grown along with me, we still have a lot of fun and we’ve become adept at propping each other up when life tilts too much. Our 50th comes the day after Christmas next year.
That much time passing confuses me. Somehow through all this metamorphosis I am still I. Perhaps that sense of continuity has happened because for such a long time I was stuck in high school. My life, even though I was teacher and no longer student, continued to revolve around homework and bell schedules and pep rallies. I often slip and refer to retirement as “graduation.” Or maybe it’s because I tend to be a forward-rushing person not given to ruminating about the past – always asking, “What’s next? What do we do now? What shall I make? Write? Read?”
But now I’ve come to the realization that there is much less “next” than there used to be. I won’t have time to read all the books I want to read, let alone write the ones clamoring to get out of my head. I won’t tour Downton Abbey or walk where Jesus walked – at least that looks unlikely right now. I won’t polish my watercolor skills or learn to spin wool. And here’s the perplexing part – I’m OK with that, but I’m having to work at adjusting to the fact that I’m actually, finally, running out of somedays. I used to have an easy way to decide what to do next – I was working 60-hour weeks, which produced its own limitations. Once I graduated retired, taking care of my mom created restrictions, and now I’ve rounded a bend and life itself becomes the border.
Life provides us with such a long plateau, a good 40-50 years during which we dress ourselves in a career, produce a family, pay off mortgages, and collect friends. A dark curtain blows out there in the distance and occasionally we deal with an elderly relative who gives us a peek at what’s behind that curtain, but we’re too busy to pay a lot of attention. A 68th birthday, however, brings me up close to that curtain – in 2 years I’ll hit 70. I plan on reminding myself of that often so when it happens I’ll be used to it. Truth is, I have no idea how to get old. I’ve not had to do that before. I can still lay my hands flat on the floor with my knees straight. I can walk for miles. I still teach and write and sew and paint and do all the things I used to do. I can still dance.
Life sans those things will be challenging. I haven’t been bored since early 1967 and I don’t plan on going back there – not without a fight.
Which brings up another piece to this pie – Growing old gracefully may be out of the question; doing anything gracefully in a society that’s falling apart is going to be tricky. I have doubts as to whether or not my future holds a rocking chair on a wide front porch. It may look more like a Brave New World soma overdose. If that’s the case then the futures of my five grandchildren loom in my imagination in a most unpleasant way. Where will they work that will use their advanced degrees? Where will they be allowed to worship? What would a bunch of jihadis do with my gorgeous granddaughters? No – sorry I even broached the subject.
But who knows? Darkest before dawn and all that. Some things are changing for the best. And I keep reminding myself of the promises –
“…10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. “(1Thessalonians1:10),
and a few chapters later – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4: 16-18).
Yes, that is a comfort, in fact, it’s an exciting prospect – I get butterflies in my tummy just thinking about what a ride that will be.
But, meanwhile I’m getting old and I have no idea how to do that – it’s all too complicated. My youngest granddaughter thinks denial will work; she keeps telling me that I’m only 22. I’m skeptical of that approach – I have a mirror. I keep my eye on the older women I know, and I take notes. They are lovely, energetic, funny and determined, gracious to the core, so I’ll follow their lead and I’ll go on being me, and see what happens. God knows how it will go, when it will end, and He’ll keep me posted. After that – heaven, so it’s all good.