During a recent discussion, some friends around the age of eighty aired the dismay they feel when they glance in the mirror or at recent photos. “Who is that white-haired person staring back at me with all those wrinkles? That can't be me!” They all concur with the general report that people their age still feel young and vigorous inside. Their sense of self has not kept pace with their bodies. They still feel inwardly as if they are in their twenties or early thirties.
“How old do you feel?” they asked me, as the youngest person in the room by far.
I have a hard time answering that question. I certainly remember being much younger, but those memories are like looking back at discarded clothing that no longer fits. Many elements remain: I still have a keen sense of curiosity and a desire to understand how things work. I still love explaining things to people. I still love being out in the woods, warm sunny days, and eating Mexican food. I still love to go exploring and to read.
Other things have changed: The way I understand things, express myself, and react to circumstances continues to evolve. With more experience to draw on, my understanding and insight have deepened. In general, I am much happier and more relaxed than I was in my younger years. So no, I do not feel “younger” than my years, but neither do I feel old. I just feel like me, and age is part of who I am. I actually celebrate my age, and look forward to each approaching year. I'm not in a hurry to get there, but I even look forward to standing on the threshold of the next level of existence, being firmly convinced there will be one, and that it will be thrilling.
My self concept is that I am in a continual state of becoming, and that sense transcends age. I'm exactly as old as I should be today.
If I choose to continue exploring and writing about my feelings about age and my sense of connectedness with age (or lack of same), I'll have to include a discussion of my beliefs and understanding of the afterlife. That would take considerably more time and space than a blog post allows, but it's a fascinating question, and one I shall continue to pursue privately.
I'd be fascinated to know how my great-grandmothers felt about their old ages — most lived long lives. I'd be fascinated to know how my great-grandchildren will feel about the same matter, and how closely the generations’ attitudes align. I can't know about the others, because it's too late, or too early, to ask. But I can record my own thoughts as a legacy so those great-grandchildren will have a basis of comparison for their own perceptions.
What about you? How old do you feel? What thoughts do you have as you gaze into the mirror?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal