Time makes you bolder, even children get older and I’m getting older too. – Stevie Nicks
“The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness” – Proverbs 16:31
My name is on a list with Elle McPherson, Rob Lowe, Calista Flockhart, Nicolas Cage, Melissa Gilbert, Lenny Kravitz, Sandra Bullock, and Keanu Reaves. Being on this list freaks me out. Why? All of these people are turning fifty (years old) this year. The culmination (of said freak out) comes when I realize that, for many people younger than twenty, some of these names are for them what names like Ava Gardner, Vivian Leigh and Cary Grant were to me growing up – distant images dusted with star-light rather than blazing stars of my generation.
Hello, middle-aged obscurity. Well, that is not a pleasant sentence. Not the obscure part (that is actually welcomed), but the middle-aged part. The term ‘middle-aged’ always seemed slightly defeatist, but I now have gratitude for the defeatists out there because they at least have the courage to surrender. Surrender is necessary, and not something that comes easily. I wish I could say I am embracing fifty with grace. It feels more like the clock is arm-wrestling me to the dirt. “Fifty, you say? Never!” – said from the woman in the dirt with Arbonne anti-aging cream in one hand and an AARP mailing in the other.
When I turned twenty-five, I thought I was going to die. I parked my white Toyota on a hill overlooking Mbabane, Swaziland, and I wept for my loneliness. I was certain I was the only single twenty five year old on the planet, and because I lived in Africa, that felt justifiably literal. When the pages of my story turned to thirty I had just returned from Africa, had just lived through the end of apartheid, and was beginning a counseling internship under one of the best thinkers in America. I was only on the threshold of my life, but of course I thought I knew all I really needed to know. When forty came across the pages I was pretty clear on how much I did not know. I had been thrown into the stories of women (and men) that had suffered unspeakable evil. Navigating severely fractured hearts was impossible without a Wisdom greater than my own, and I had begun to relish the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By then I also had failed enough to know better than to think I knew it all. I loved my thirties, and it was the decade of my glory in many ways – but it also included two serious romances broken due much to my own unaddressed desperate clinging. As the page turns to fifty I’m crystal clear on how much I do not know, but I also realize that what I do know is important. I’m just now on the threshold of figuring out what to do about that.
I think of my sixty, seventy, eighty year old friends (for whom I have great respect), and I long to emulate them. As I look at their lives, I see a settled, peaceful quiet about all that they do know. They are settled with the wisdom they have earned, and enjoy passing that along – sometimes earnestly, sometimes with a wink and a smile. I’m stirred by the words, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree…They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing (Psalm 92:12,14). But to be fresh and flourishing at this middle juncture is fleeting enough; how in the world does a woman remain so into the beyond-middle-age decades?
I’m silenced, as I’m guessing you are, when I see a woman, grey hair shining, whose vibrant eyes tell a thousand stories of unseen moments of love and courage. And I’m saddened, as I know you are, when I see the hollow eyes of elderly women who have spent a lifetime trying to be beautiful, but who have spent the precious commodity of their energy on themselves. It’s the difference between make-up and luminous skin. You can’t hide. It’s the difference between painting from the palette and brush God has placed in your hands and robotically working on a paint-by-number project.
So why do I resist the aging process so much? I think it has something to do with the fact that I literally grew up with a woman’s aging taking place before my eyes. My childhood years, and my transformation into young womanhood, took place in the presence of an aging middle aged woman. When my mom turned fifty, I was all of six years old – the straggler of six kids – and my mom’s tired body showed it. She had a sweet, mounded belly, a growing widow’s beak bump appearing on her back, varicose veins. She dyed her hair in the sink. Ours was a tangled relationship – knotted up in illness, age, desperation and genuine love. I watched my mother age – sometimes with grace, sometimes sputtering toward a finish line she did not welcome. It isn’t that she wanted to keep on living, but she sure hated getting old.
I want to age well. I don’t want to be found in the dirt. I want to surrender every day to a clock I can’t control, but also to a life I can live with burgeoning joy.
So today I am going to be obedient to the biblical admonition, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.” But today I am going to rise in the presence of my own aging body and graying hair. I am going to revere the wisdom that is growing in me – hard won; blood birthed.
And I’m going to summon the courage to write out some of the core lessons crafted into the stone of my being through the myriad wild experiences our good God has allowed me to live. Stay tuned.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over twenty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has worked on behalf of exploited women internationally, but also loves the trails of Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Steve. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page, and her blog.