It’s a gift, you know, or ought to by now, after how many times you’ve been told it is one. Aging, they say again and again, a gift denied to many, growing old an unwrapped present that is not given to so many, so many who go too soon, rest too young. We fight it though, unsuccessfully and often comically, turning faces to plastic, bodies to bionic, and don’t understand why we still slow, then stutter, then stop. Whole industries pop up to delay it, capitalism dredging for every last penny of every last vulnerable soul, they sell us creams for wrinkles, injections for fine lines, supplements for human growth hormones, still we go, still we go.
I think we call it a fall, a descent, a collapse, this aging we inevitably face. I think we look down our noses at it, disrespect it, hide those that have aged away in little villages and communities, far enough to let us forget when not inside those walls, close enough to keep the guilt at bay. We call it losing the battle, we call it defeat, we hang our heads and sort the sorrow with the shame with the surrender.
“When I notice myself growing older I…” was the prompt given to me from a dear friend that started this whole thing off. We were discussing the grey in our beards, the new grey in his hair, noticed only after a haircut and he saw them pooled on the floor below his feet, and he asked me this, a question asked of him from some game on some deck of cards.
What do I do when I notice myself growing older, when I look into mirrors and see not only my own face, but that of my father before me? What do I do when I notice myself slower to rise from bed each morning, stiffer in joints, creakier when I stand or sit? What when I see silver in week old growth on cheeks and chin? I didn’t know the answer then, when he first asked, when those cards asked him, so I told him to wait, I told him I’d think on this and spin it into this Signal Fire, that the answer would come. I think I know now, though I don’t think he expected to wait months to hear. I think I know now.
Aging is a rising, I decided, a lift. Aging is flight, it’s helium, it’s gravity not working so hard against us, but releasing its grasp just a bit, and letting us become lighter, letting us become lightness itself. We rise into age, and I think we are the hot air balloons that fill the skies of Cappadocia by the thousands, making that desert beautiful. I think we rise because as we grow, as we begin that process of withering slow, we release the sandbags, the lead weights, we carried so long, we knotted ourselves to in order to stay grounded and safe.
We carry so much, don’t we? We’re bogged down and flightless from the immensity of all we load into those sandbags, by the strength of the ropes that bind them to our baskets. We carry the weight of other’s opinions, we carry the poundage of guilt, of fear, of shame, and of so much worry that it’s a miracle there’s a place to put it at all. Perhaps it’s the worry more than all things that keep us grounded, the worry of the health of those we love as we watch them age beside us, the worry that each twinge in each obscure piece of our insides just might be cancer, just might be the early end. We worry of the world we’re living in, the world we’re leaving behind to all those not yet wrinkled and slowed by time. There are ten billion reasons to worry, and they all make canyons of our skin, carving out and eroding lines as we crinkle our noses, as we crease our foreheads in concern.
To survive this, all this weight, to reach the point of flight once more is a triumph, isn’t it? To see the world we’re soon to leave from such stunning heights, to look back down on what held us there, earthbound and struggling, is revelatory. I shall call it gift, though I know it cliche, I shall call it blessing though I know not who bestowed it upon me.
These wrinkles will stay, and I will celebrate them there. These laugh lines, these crows feet from smiling, from squinting into the sunlight that is my wife, they will be the trophies I treasure, my face the mantle they rest upon.
“When I notice myself growing older I…” and those ellipses ask ten thousand questions that all have one answer. I celebrate. Each day I wake, each day I survive, each moment I endure on this planet that knows an infinite number of ways to end me, I look out with astonishment and wonder, and I feel thankful. Each ache, each pain, each twinge that may or may not be the cancer that kills me, they are reminders of life, of this stubborn heart that beats despite the weights it carries. I celebrate, and I feel myself lighter, I celebrate, and I look around from a new elevation. Every year, a few inches higher, every decade, another sandbag gone.
What a gift, this slow rise into aging, and we shall call it such. Let us float until we fly, and let us feel the air grow thinner. Let us abandon the balms and creams, the injections and surgeries, let us burn through the treatments that promise to roll back the clock and redeliver youth to our flesh. Let us age, and let us slow, let us wrinkle, let us saw away the ropes that have held us to this silly earth for so long.
Call it gift, call it present unwrapped, call it whatever you wish, but celebrate it, for far too many go far too early, and my goodness what would they give to float beside us? Age is a mindset, and we get to set it, it has never been a condition, a disease we perish from. Be young in your soul, and worry not of your body.
Rise from here, slow as you like, but rise, and marvel at the world you see.
We shall call it gift,
this slow rise into aging,
feel thankful for it.