THE OTHER DAY I was talking with a gal that I’ve worked with for quite a while.
She’s as much a friend as she is a colleague, and one of the smartest, wisest and most insightful people it’s ever been my good fortune to know.
We were yakking about how many times in our lives something had happened — something that seemed “bad” or unfortunate or, at least, not what we had in mind only to realize, years later, that it was probably the best thing that could have happened.
That it was exactly what needed to happen.
We just weren’t able to see it that way at the time.
“It’s all in how you look at it,” was how we summed it up.
And I’d bet pretty good money (if I had pretty good money) that most of us have had that same experience, and probably on more than one occasion.
We assumed bad-wrong-dark-problem, when we actually had no idea what a blessing it was going to be.
It occurred to me later (because, I’m not always the fastest sucker in the valley) how often I hear the same sentiment expressed about aging (or getting older or getting old or whatever other label we might choose to describe not dead): It’s bad.
We’ll just step around the obvious question, “What’s bad about not dead?” because, for most of us most of the time the answer is equally obvious, and ask something different: Why would we leap to that assumption?
The answer is sometimes “Because I’m closer to the ‘end’ than I am to the beginning.”
Well, OK, but we’ve all been getting “closer to the end” since the day we got here.
Is it just that we think we can see it now?
True, some of us can, but most of us can’t. We just imagine that we can.
And we know what we’ve seen.
We’ve seen disease, disability, pain, loneliness and sometimes desperation in the lives of older folks we’ve known and it scared us.
But most of us have also seen, and often experienced, more time, more love, more wisdom, more tolerance and less … desperation from older folks.
An ability to see beyond the crisis-of-the-day and just enjoy the day.
Insight into how life really works, as opposed to how we might try to force it to work.
Do you remember the phrase “It’s time to smell the roses?”
Well, OK, but maybe to plant the roses, nourish the roses, give a rose to a friend or just be smart enough to avoid grabbing a thorn.
There are a lot of ways to look at roses.
There are a lot of ways to look at aging.
And if the way we choose is to continually tally what’s lost, I suppose it might not look so hot.
But if we allow ourselves to notice what’s been gained, then the game changes.
Now, none of you are going to let me get away with pretending that aging is all just a swell deal, filled with happiness and light and Tinkerbell tunes.
“Aging isn’t for wimps” is a phrase that most of us have heard, understood and often embraced by necessity.
But it isn’t all a bad hand, either.
I guess it’s all in how we look at it.
If you’re eager for an exercise in humility, think back over your life and start adding up all the times that you did or said something so staggeringly stupid, mean or embarrassing that it gives you the creeps to think about it: “Did I actually do that?”
Yeah, you did. So did I.
Would we do, or say, those same things again? No.
Why? Because we’re smarter than we used to be (or wiser or kinder) and perhaps more able to realize that we are not the only person on the planet.
And that those other people matter.
To realize that how they do, feel or the look in their eyes when they see us matters.
For some of us, aging might be a time to make amends for some of those things. So be it.
Or, maybe it’s a time to make sure that we don’t keep doing those same things.
A time to be more a part of the solution and less a part of the problem.
Maybe it’s just a time to do better, however we might define that.
And what do all of those have in common?
Right. An opportunity.
An opportunity to engage, to do better, to be who we’d like to be, instead of who we think we have to be.
To realize that it never was a race, it was a journey, and the journey isn’t over.
I’d guess that if we choose to believe that aging is a miserable, frightening and painful exercise in endurance, we increase the likelihood that it will be.
Probably just like the rest of our lives have been.
But if we imagine it as opportunity — the infinite possibilities of not dead — then, we might do a little better.
And feel a little better.
And have a little more fun.
I s’pose it’s all in how we look at it.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].