An evangelical call
by Susan Muto
Aging gracefully is life’s favorite way of awakening in us a renewed appreciation for the richness of the ordinary. The older we become, the more we appreciate the fact that life unfolds day by day with moments we treasure, however unspectacular they may be.
Growing older alone and together is not easy, but it does have a way of reframing events in simpler terms. The best part of the day becomes a walk in the park, lunch at our favorite café, or a chance encounter with an old friend.
Growing older gives us more time to ponder the meaning of life and to find in every obstacle an opportunity to grow in knowledge of ourselves and others. We know with each passing day, with each look in the mirror, with each visit to the doctor’s office, that we are coming closer to the end of our life, diminishing physically but developing spiritually.
By contrast, to age “disgracefully” is to become bitter, standoffish, and full of self-pity, making even those close to us feel guilty for not doing enough for us, and, worst of all, holding grudges against God. Being alone is only about feeling lonely, not about relishing the joy of integrating solitude and solidarity.
To age “gracefully” is to accept life’s limits as blessings. We treasure the moments of companionship we enjoy with others. Most of all, we become more reflective. Presence to a mystery in and beyond us illumines everything we do, whatever our level of activity may be.
The present moment is all that we have, and we exude gratitude for the peaks and valleys of everydayness.
There is no doubt that a huge obstacle to aging gracefully is a lack of gratitude. As Dag Hammarskjöld, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, once said: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes!”
Aging gives us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to being a pleasant person whose company others seek. A grateful “elder statesman” — not an ungrateful sour-puss — is that proverbial person we want to be when we grow up.
The present moment is all that we have.
To age in the attitude of gratitude, it helps to practice the “thank you” prayer. As physical limits become unmistakable, an example may be: Thank you for the walker that helps me to keep my balance and avoid dangerous falls.
Emotionally, one might say: Thank you for the sadness I feel today because that call I expected did not come. I pray the phone will ring tomorrow, and I am thankful in advance if it does.
When memory eludes one, why not muster the courage to say: Thank you for letting me forget once again where I put my keys. I was able to stop that frantic feeling, to pause, to pray, and to wait patiently until I discovered where they were.
Low points happen spiritually, but here, too, it behooves one to say: Thank you that today I felt a wave of desert dryness, but I knew I was not alone, and I felt comforted.
Such gratitude cures the worst sickness of aging: not organic diminishment but loss of hope; not mild forgetfulness but a stubborn refusal to seek help; not normal times of loneliness or mourning for a lost loved one, but chronic complaining and negative views that only allow one to behold dark clouds, never rainbows.
Aging gracefully gives us the opportunity to practice one of the greatest spiritual disciplines: detachment. To grow older necessitates letting go of so much that we used to know and do — and ultimately of life itself. Before we pass over to the next life, now is the time to detach ourselves from useless worry, from possessions we no longer need, and from hurts we finally have to forgive.
We have no choice but to slow down and celebrate the glory of a good life, lived as well as possible and manifested in a sunrise, in a small group sharing, in a compliment we never expected to receive.
To age gracefully is to accept reality as it is rather than filtering it through the narrow viewfinder of our “disgraceful” demands.
It takes courage to face the brevity of life, no matter how old we are. Time passes so quickly. We wonder where the years have gone, but our faith assures us that the light tribulations of this life are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. That is why we can recommit ourselves, whatever chronological age we may be, to grow in gratitude and to grow older gracefully.