Don't get old?

So, I hit another “milestone” – I need progressive lenses. When I asked the optometrist why I couldn’t function with single vision lenses anymore, she blamed it on my increasing seniority. In the middle of my mental griping, the thought went through my head: “Don’t get old, kid.”

And I caught myself short.

Fast forward to another conversation, just today. I was asked if I were still getting older. Of course I replied affirmatively. The response: “Don’t. Do whatever you can to stop getting old.”

My response (after a moment of thought): “Well, I don’t like the alternative.”

I recognize the frustration behind the injunction. I had said it myself with far less cause for complaint. How often have many of us said more or less that same thing to ourselves or others, with more or less sarcasm?

But what is the alternative?

Imagine saying “Don’t get old” to a depressed, suicidal friend or someone diagnosed with terminal cancer at 40 and you’ll immediately see the problem.

The problem, I think, is that we live in a culture that idolizes youth and youthfulness. Aging and the associated changes are viewed as “suffering,” and we have this idea that we should not suffer. (I put the word suffering in quotes – some diseases that are age-related are true suffering.) Not to mention perhaps understandable fears of being put out to pasture in a care facility and gradually forgotten by the world, the fate of too many of our elderly.

Contrast this to cultures which prize their elders, in which great age is carried as a well-earned badge of honor. Their collective wisdom, often gained by struggling through suffering and only available through age and experience (unlike knowledge), enriches the lives of succeeding generations.

Life is good. Life is beautiful. Life is sacred. Even in the midst of pain and suffering. How much damage are we doing to our younger generations and collective psyche by mourning the loss of your youth and failing to celebrate all the riches gained throughout the years of our lives, riches ONLY gained by going through those years?

I may not grow old gracefully, and I'm sure not without some griping. And I’m also sure I won’t enjoy every minute, but I would rather grow old than the alternative.

“A gray head is a crown of glory” – Proverbs 16:31a

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