My minister is preaching a series on aging. I love this guy’s sermons and his whacked out idea of worship. Last week we had somebody sing “When I’m 64”. This week it was “Glory Days” and as the benediction the choir did “I Won’t Grow Up” from Peter Pan. His basic premise is that we can find ways to grow older without growing old—show gratitude for those who have mentored us along the way, continue to make new friends, live in the moment, retain hope for the future.
This week he mentioned the oft-used phrase of older people “I’m not the person I used to be”. I soon caught on to where he was going with this, but had to laugh at my initial reaction which was “Thank God!” I am so very much better now than I have ever been before that I want to have that phrase tattooed on my forehead. Or just pass out small cards should I ever encounter someone I once knew—“I am not the bitchy, over-achieving cheerleader I was in high school” or “I am not the ball-busting, trail-blazing female banker I was in the 80’s” or “I am no longer the emotionally abused wife afraid to leave” or even “I am no longer the guilt-ridden mother who thinks she failed.” We actually do all get to grow and change and reinvent ourselves time and time again.
There is a cool store up in Leland owned by a woman I went to high school with. Years ago when I was in there and recognized her I introduced myself and asked if she remembered me. She said, “Yes.” and pretty much walked away. Shit! I remembered really liking her and thinking she was cool and funny. It seemed her memory of me was a tad less rosy. I needed an “I’m not the person I used to be” card right then and there.
When my minister used the phrase he was talking about losses—all the things we once were and wish we were still. The declines in mental acuity, physical prowess, sensory perception. But I don’t yet have many of those. Through some freak of genetic blessing I still don’t have gray hair and I can pass eye tests and read books without glasses, barely, but still. I wouldn’t mind my 18-year-old body, but the rest of it you can keep. I am wiser, kinder, happier, more open, less afraid and far more willing to try new things and give new people a wide berth. I like Mary 2.0 so much better than the original that part of me wants to disown her. But then I remember that all that has come before has led to today. We are, none of us, created out of whole cloth but are a patchwork of our old selves and experiences. As a wise friend once said, “at this age everybody has ex-wives and a long list of past mistakes.” I look at the wrinkles around my eyes and say “Yup. Earned every single one and proud to have ‘em.”
I think somewhere in the divine plan is the idea that physical losses and spiritual gains seem to arrive almost simultaneously. As I have shared here before, I wrote in a poem a few years back entitled “58”
This is the year my left knee stopped turning sideways and each tooth cost $2000 to repair.
Why does God have out bodies fall apart just as our souls are coming together?
Why indeed? Because, dear friends, that is life. As women learned in the 70s when first making inroads into male-dominated careers while still often wanting and pursuing family life—yes, we CAN have it all, just not all at once, at least not if we have any hope of maintaining balance and sanity. So the lesson might be to take what you have when you have it and go full out. I wish I’d made better use of that 18-year-old body—more sports, more partying, more romances—and been a little less careful and responsible. If I’d truly understood how very many decades I’d have to be a grown up, I’d have had more fun. But now there are no parents to fear disappointing. Hardly even any children to be mortified at my acting out. I can pretty much do whatever I want, with only my very conservative Merrill Lynch advisors to cause a moment’s worry. And I doubt even they will lose sleep over one carefree senior blowing through her money too fast.
So no, I am not the person I used to be. Thank God! I’ll keep trying to improve the inside and make full use of the outside while it still works. Mary 3.0 might have even more bugs worked out. Grow or die, really the only workable choices.