A recent issue of AARP Magazine features all kinds of ways for people over 50 to avoid aging, to get, as one article puts it, “younger every year.” Perhaps staving off aging works for some people, at least until it catches up with them (which it will), but in my experience, embracing aging, reaping its benefits, is infinitely more rewarding. I choose to age as gracefully as I can.
I cannot claim that I have consistently aged gracefully. I have learned through considerable experience, though, that for me resisting the course of nature is not worth the effort it takes. So graceful aging means learning to accept the inevitable and to live around it, being grateful for life’s blessings, and finding productive ways to use my skills to enrich my own life and perhaps to benefit others.
Graceful aging means being able to step away when the time comes. One day a person is in the thick of things, making decisions, carrying responsibilities, doing tasks that seem important, interacting with other busy people. Life has structure and purpose. But then we pass the torch, leaving the decisions and the tasks to others, even knowing they will be done differently. Grace needs to rise to the fore then, allowing that different is not wrong, just different, and that a life stage has passed.
Graceful aging means accepting the exigencies of aging—which can, admittedly, be frustrating to say the least—with courage and adaptability. For me, it means selecting only commitments which I am sure I can fulfill without undue stress or fatigue. It means adjusting my schedule to leave space in my days to rest and relax.
Graceful aging means living day by day but planning and hoping for more days to come. Grace does not have space for fretting about what lies ahead. Practicality is important, of course; I have done the legal paperwork. And then, as aging makes possible, I have let it go and kept going. I still have living to do.
Graceful aging means knowing what brings pleasure and how to find it. It can be, for me, as simple as an afternoon of friendly bridge with compatible people who know it’s just a game. We all have different ways of seeking pleasure, even though they might not be the same when we age as they were in youth. Pleasure could be physical activity, travel, social gatherings and more. Whatever brings pleasure in the aging years, however, requires adaptation to attendant limitations. Paul Newman was still racing cars well into his seventies, but I’m pretty sure he adjusted for age-related changes in his reactions and vision. Graceful aging takes the body’s changing needs into account, deals with them, and “leans in,” if you will, to enjoy the moment.
No one can suppose that it is simple or easy to age gracefully, or that it happens without an investment of emotional energy, but I believe it is worth the reward—a degree of serenity, opportunities to learn and grow, a lifetime of good memories, the flexibility to choose what to do and how to do it, and the satisfaction of living each day as richly as possible. For me, that is enough.