Old Woman in the Mirror
Mature Living, 2003/Chicken Soup for the Soul, September 2011)
When I retired at 64 years of age, I had no idea how interesting growing old was going to be. I was just happy to
wake up every morning, knowing I didn't have to go to work. Neither did I think of myself as elderly until a newspaper
article regarding a 60-year-old woman referred to her as "an elderly woman."
When I read those words, I remembered a dear friend who had once told me that when she accidentally caught
sight of herself, she would wonder, "Who is that old woman in the mirror?" She had the spirit and the heart of a young woman until she died at 89 years
of age. Neither of us ever thought of her as elderly.
I was fortunate in my
youth to have good friends who were thirty or forty years older than myself. I
saw them grow old so gracefully, so beautifully that I never thought of them as elderly.
They were my mentors, my polestars, my inspiration to live a long and fulfilling life.
So what is this aging
business? Am I in denial because I feel no different than I did thirty years
ago? When I look in the mirror, I don't exactly see an old woman but neither
do I see the woman I know myself to be. But then, does the mirror ever reflect
our inner selves?
I have decided the mirror
is not the culprit. It is modern society's perception of old age. There is a certain stigma to growing old in today's world.
If we are retired, our value to society is questioned. Unfortunately,
many buy into that theory. But not all of us!
I find myself excited
for the first time in many years, because I am finally free to be as young as I feel.
I have no job to define me, no boss to direct me, no career goals to achieve.
I can call, e-mail and visit friends, spend time with beloved children and grandchildren, read for hours at a time,
get involved in projects that help others or just do nothing. I can spend
as much time in prayer, meditation and contemplation that I choose. I can
dance around the house to my favorite music but please don't spread that around. Senility
is another of society's concerns.
I do acknowledge
that my husband and I have an occasional "senior moment" which we joke about.
A few months ago, I was writing a check at Walmart (having also shopped at Kmart and Target). It took me a moment to recall which store I was in, and I teasingly said to my husband, "Where am I?' Having a slight hearing problem in one ear, he looked at his watch and responded,
"It's almost 5:00 o'clock." We laughed so hard that we had to lean against one
another. The clerk looked a little nervous.
It is not my intention
to play down the seriousness of those who do suffer with physical, mental or emotional problems. Having worked with Hospice, I have great compassion for those who bravely face the end of their life under
Neither do I deny that
on a more superficial level, I now make different choices—shopping particularly.
The woman who once wore uncomfortable shoes and control-top pantyhose
has died. Please don't mourn that woman.
She has found heaven right here on earth in comfortable, but hopefully still attractive attire.
I can understand why
the young ignore the rather obvious fact that they will one day grow old and die. I
would like to reassure them, however, that the person who lives in the now young body will be the same person, if somewhat
wiser and with less baggage, in an older body. An important bonus is thrown in
for good measure. With age comes a marvelous freedom from caring about what other
people think of you and from trying to live up to their expectations.
I don't know if this
last phase of my life will last a few months or many years. It is the not
knowing that makes each day special. Of course, we didn't know how long we were
going to live when we were younger either, but we didn't know that we didn't know.
We were too busy living.
I am goal oriented, I chose a new goal when I retired. I decided to be too busy
living to dwell on what the rest of the world is focused on—my age, my deteriorating body, my uselessness in a fast-moving
modern society. I want to give of myself to life, to my family and friends. I want to learn new things, explore new possibilities.
I want to be involved in helping others open their hearts.
So call me elderly if
you like but be careful how you refer to others. Words have power. Choose them carefully.
I once read that people
may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.