If you ever want to feel young, I highly recommend
spending time with senior citizens. I’ve volunteered at retirement homes for a
couple of years, and it’s really changed the way I think about ageing. This is
not why I do it, of course – I think loneliness is a soul-destroying
experience, and I want to help alleviate that in others – but an unexpected
side-effect has been the way it’s led me to reflect on how much time, joy and wonder I still
have before me, despite society telling me the best is behind me.
Because we live in a society that glorifies youth, we’re
not very good at accepting the passage of time. And that has a negative effect on the way we feel about ourselves and our lives. An intriguing 2013 study at Trinity University in Texas, US, found that “old talk” can be as damaging as “fat talk” when it comes to women’s body dissatisfaction and self-image, particularly in those aged 46 and older. (Yeah, thanks... we so needed more reasons to feel crap about ourselves...)
When it comes to ageing, we
tend to lament what we’ve lost – pert boobs, deep reserves of energy and
stellar hangover-recovery powers, for example – instead of celebrating how much
we’ve gained. We dread birthdays and complain that we ‘aren’t as
fit/fast/energetic’ as we used to be, instead of reflecting on how much wiser,
stronger and more confident we are. I wish we could reframe the way we view
ageing, starting with language that is more
celebratory of age instead of resentful.
Recently I’ve been working on a magazine aimed at
teenagers, and in some ways it’s made me feel like a dinosaur. Kids
today have a totally different language (did you know: ‘OP’ is shorthand for ‘on
point’, and ‘embarro’ is short for ‘embarrassing’?). But equally, it’s made me
very appreciative to be at the age and stage I’m at now. No way would I want to
be a teenager again, dealing with first periods, peer pressure and figuring out how to talk to boys (actually, I’m not sure that I’ve nailed that one yet). That is one
reason ageing is really, really great – you realise that the years that were
supposed to be the best years of your life were (at least, for me) the ugliest, and that life has been much easier from there onwards.
Getting older is a privilege, and, as we are oft
reminded, it’s one that’s denied to many. Every year we spend on this planet is
another opportunity to learn and grow, and to bear witness to incredible
beauty. And, yes, to experience pain and heartbreak too, but that is part of
the journey, and part of ageing is learning how to make sense of that and to
dig our way through it ‘til we get to a stronger place.
A major factor in our fear of ageing is the idea that we’re
running out of time to be all that we want to be. Working with the spiritual
realm has taught me that’s not the case. We have enough time to let the truth
of who we are unfold and to get closer to the majesty encased within our own
hearts. We have enough time.
For me, the best part about getting older is no longer
giving a shit. So many of my choices when I was younger revolved around concern
for what other people thought of me. In my teen years I used to suppress my
laugh because I thought it was too loud and embarro (!). In
my 20s I stumbled around in high heels, even though I lack the poise and
coordination to walk gracefully in them, because I thought that that was what I was
supposed to do. Now I wear ballet flats all the way (yay comfort!). These are only small
examples but they illustrate ways that I no longer care about the ‘shoulds’ and
the ‘musts’. This, for me, has been the single greatest joy of ageing – learning
to follow the beat of my own heart.
I have cellulite and wrinkles that I neither want to
show off nor hide. Because at the age of 36 I recognise that those things
don’t matter. What matters is that I am fully showing up for my life, committed
to giving more and being more, and writing my own script for how I want my life
to look. I am more sure of myself and my purpose than I have ever been. I am a kinder,
more centred, more resilient person than I was one, three, 10 years ago, and I have
every reason to believe I will continue on that trajectory. Because that’s what
ageing looks like – a better me.
I would not go back, not for anything.