My birthday was last Wednesday, Aug. 10. I turned 57 years old. My major activity that day was prepping the exterior of my house for painting.
Of course, turning 57 was not really traumatic as I didn’t feel any different than when I was 56 just the day before. I am, however, aware that I am getting older. My body aches a bit more after a lot of physical work, although I was pretty pain-free after the scraping and sanding. I had a frozen shoulder this past winter — physical therapy helped to release it. I learned that it happens in men when they pass 50 years old.
Birthdays are milestones, but they’re not definitive markers that tell us something will be very different when we pass them. Aging is a process. We change over time. Our bodies may break down, but we, hopefully, also gain wisdom about living. We come to recognize our aging when we look back — five years ago I could do such and such easily, now it is harder. Or, I finally understand something that I didn’t understand five years ago.
I’m not saying that at age 57, I should be looking for a rocking chair. (Hmm… this prompts an image in my head of a Samuel Becket play, Rockabye. The single character, an elderly woman, rocks herself to death.) But aging is inevitable. Lurking not too far in the background is mortality.
Too often we deny age. We’re reluctant to state our real age. We talk about being 57 years young, even though we really can’t do the same things to the same degree as when we were young. Go to the card section and see how many cards stress youth or make fun of aging.
I often think of the difference between our concept of age and that of the Chinese. As Chinese, we honor age. Our elders have wisdom, which they can impart upon us so we can live better. What do we lose as a culture when we deny aging or mock its inevitability? How might this nation be different if we accepted the inevitability of aging and honored it?