While spending time with a large number of retired people, I began to re-examine the phrases “aging with grace” and “aging gracefully.”
My question arose because I began to realize how difficult it can be to enter this stage of life “gracefully.” The more I considered the phrases, the better I realized a number of writers have heard about the difficulties of aging and have chosen to write about the inevitable challenges this period presents.
One of the greatest challenges is the realization that the period of life we refer to as “aging” brings with it all the patterns and playbooks we have used earlier in our lives. But these formerly useful tools may not be the ones most needed now.
Earlier this year, my poem “Change,” appeared in a small journal. I tried to capture some of the feelings deep within a man as he ages.
“Change,” roared the dragon “is the name of the game.
It’s the pattern, the Torah, the way to explain,
The secret, deep in the plan — that ferries the boy
To the world of the man.
“But, it’s lonely, awesome, and fraught with doubt
And once I’m in, is there any way out?
Is there a window, a door, a way to escape?
Is it okay to cry or scream, or maybe go late?
“There is a time and there is a way
And you’ll know it — when you say —
‘Enough of this — too little of that
I must move forward — I can’t go back.’
“When you tremble and doubt — and wrestle each day
And suddenly realize you’re on the way
And then you look back — and wake up and know
You had to move forward — sometimes fast, sometimes slow.”
Patterns, priorities and perspectives change.
Some days are structured around chosen activities and others are built on medical necessities and the natural challenges of age.
But what is natural only feels so when we are able to discuss our realities with others who are making the same or similar journey.
My walking group goes out each morning for a three- to seven-mile hike. We meet at an agreed-upon time and place and share our ups and downs as we venture forth.
One has a pain on the left side and the other has a similar issue on the right side. Each can appreciate what the other must confront. One recommends a cardiologist, another talks about her dermatologist.
At first, these conversations sound like an “organ recital” with each of us talking about our biological inner life. After awhile, however, we realize we are supporting one another in our medical issues while literally walking through life. We are also realizing the difference between aging “gracefully” and aging “gratefully.” We share our blessings and joys just as much as our frustrations and “oys.”
I think some writers speak about aging gracefully as a way to avoid the sometimes awkwardness and unpredictability of the aging process. Challenges we formerly watched others address now confront us. Sometimes they feel insurmountable and we feel isolated; maybe even ashamed.
Talking with others, sharing our frustrations and vulnerability can help greatly. We quickly learn they, too, are walking on the same path.
Albert Schweitzer wrote: “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude (gratefulness) of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
Each of us can kindle and be kindled: Each of us is blessed and can bring blessings to others. Each of us is learning and yearning…and that is a gift beyond age.
Dr. Albert M. Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. He is a public speaker and author of “Soul Sounds: Reflections on Life,” available at www.soulsoundsbook.com. Contact him through the Record-Eagle, 120 W. Front, Traverse City, MI 49684.