It’s the autumn of the year, and it brings a kind of mood that reminds me of what it’s like to grow old.
It’s nothing like I imagined it would be, not that I spent a lot of time thinking about it when I was young. From time to time, the thought did enter my mind for just a moment. I would wipe it clean with my next distraction.
I was young, and those thoughts were for older people. It was obvious I wasn’t old. I had my youthful look and dreams about the future. But the future for me was next month, not the next five decades.
Now here I am, old! According to the actuaries, I’m not just old but that particular category many people never reach, “old old.”
I’ve lost a lot of friends in their 70s and a few enemies too. I’m in my 80s looking back on how my life is just a little emptier, even without the enemies. Because they weren’t really enemies, They were people who viewed the world as a different place than I did. I miss them too.
Maybe I miss them more because they provided a contrast. And the mind’s eye is attracted to contrasts because they give life variety. I mean the often unwrapped gifts those people give us are insights into ourselves. If you’re like me, you won’t unwrap these gifts because it’s difficult to look within and see something we don’t like about ourselves.
Without these negative experiences, the world would be a boring place. I know that sounds crazy, but all these years later, when I reflect on my life, I remember those people who gave me the most emotional disruption. They are the ones who served up many of life’s lessons, and I didn’t know it.
It would be nice to say that our golden years are pure joy, but they’re a mixed bag. The kind you reach into and never know what you’ll get next. The little ache that turns out to be a pulled muscle. Or the pain in your side that turns out to be more serious. These are the gifts and surprises we learn to accept as we age.
I tell my friends; retirement allows me time to visit my doctors. Rarely a week goes by without an appointment, a test, or a new medicine to take. And with each new appointment, I emotionally prepare myself to “win the jackpot.” My way of saying the diagnosis with a prognosis I don’t want to hear.
But it happens to all of us. Death is the great equalizer, and the lesson I’ve learned as I grow “old older” is that acceptance is the great panacea—the bringer of peace and contentment.
Today, I more fully enjoy my visits with old friends. They are precious to me. Words don’t explain the kind of joy of that connection with people I’ve loved even before I knew my wife and children. Yet, somehow it brings me back to my youth and the most precious memories I possess—a time of innocence and appreciation for the potential for my whole life ahead of me.
I guess I was taller then, and I could see farther. I’m much shorter today. I don’t see very far anymore. But I see an opportunity to give back—to offer as much of the wisdom I’ve gained in these eighty-plus years. And finally, to spread the word.
The real meaning of life is to learn to love unconditionally. Starting with forgiving yourself and accepting who you are, warts and all—then offering that same unconditional acceptance to those around you. All the great prophets of history have said the same thing. We are here to learn to love. I’ve been given a long time to learn it, and I think it may finally be within my reach.