I love those greeting cards that say, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better – like fine wine.” And it’s true as far as I can tell. I listen to cassette tapes I made in my twenties and cringe at my tone, asserting myself brashly, my insecurity thinly disguised as self-confidence.
Yet, I so appreciate the energy of the earnest young people around me. At least in the circles I haunt, all are genuinely passionate about fixing the world I helped mess up, and most show more humility than I did at their age. I’m comforted by their energy and common sense and feel the planet is in good hands as I wander towards the wings, away from center stage.
I’ll turn sixty this year, an incomprehensible number. My friend Shirley, nineteen years my senior, told me this when she turned sixty: “When you turn fifty everyone tells you how good you look, but when you turn sixty, no matter how good you look you’re still sixty!” Those words have been ringing in my ears for nearly two decades and this year I get to test drive them for myself.
As I slide down the back half of the life expectancy bell curve, I find myself drawn to older women. I spent the first half mostly in the company of men, many of them younger – my brothers and their friends, neighbors and cousins, and the second half seeking the company of women.
My mother, a seasoned life survivor, tops the list of women who are helping me make sense of the world and my place in it. Each week we talk for an hour or two on the phone. For the past year I’ve been transcribing her stories as she tells them, stories about her childhood and how it was affected by the Great Depression, stories about me and my five brothers being born and growing up.
Mom turns eighty-two this year but she still laughs like the little girl who once played in the schoolyard with her friends. Every once in awhile she cries like the thirteen-year old girl who lost her father to an untimely death. Always she loves unconditionally with what surely is the wisdom of the ages.
Even my dead grandmother, my beloved Nana continues coaching me from beyond the grave with maxims like “Cookie, Cookie, don’t have kids – they’ll break your heart,” “Genius is walking in the shadow of madness,” and best of all, “He’s more to be pitied than scorned.”
It’s only recently that I notice myself being drawn to older people. When I walk into a room, I unerringly greet everyone in my path on my way towards the grey-haired folk. A few weeks ago I visited a cat sanctuary and never got much farther than the first person with grey hair. She rewarded me with her perspective on hair color and post-menopausal libido within minutes of meeting. She had nothing to hide, no need to mince words.
On the one hand you’d think I would naturally prefer to share what I’ve learned at this point in my life. Indeed, ten years ago I did think I was transitioning from student to mentor but it was temporary. Instead, I crave the wisdom of the ages. I’m in uncharted waters. I’m no expert in aging, only in being young.
Regardless of how young I feel, the fact is I’m not so young anymore. Neither am I as spiritually evolved as I once thought I was. Or as environmentally conscious. Or well read. I seem to be going backwards. I’m slipping over the falls in a barrel, calling out to those who’ve been around a little longer, ever grateful for the lifeline of their open hearted and unpretentious words.