“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”–Jack Weinberg, 1964
“I hope I die before I get old.”–The Who, 1965
It was my generation, I suppose, that began this trend—the glorification of youth, the disdain of old age. Our fathers risked their lives in World War II, but we had no time for their stories, for their work ethic, for their social norms. We were young and we were better.
So it is no wonder that we have learned to deny the reality of our own age. We call ourselves “middle-aged.” I am middle-aged if I live until I am 128. About two years ago, I decided to discover the color of my hair. Turns out, it’s fairly white. I like it. But in a room full of women my age (and older), there are about two of us without hair that is perfectly brown, or blond, or bright red.
This is what my white hair has earned me: more doors opened for me than since I was pretty and young, hearing the words “cute” and “adorable,” and a cloak of invisibility. Old age does not engender respect or the request for advice. Old age is a handicap our culture is not comfortable with, so we tend to ignore those afflicted.
My teenage son, who worked in a fast-food restaurant, came home with the observation that old men become fools, old women become shrews. He wasn’t wrong. I have stepped out of myself more than once, turning to see a complaining, demanding, unlovely woman. Sometimes, fortunately, I bite my tongue before this happens. There are reasons why we tend this way:
We know stuff, and you don’t care.
We are set in our ways.
We are done raising our children, and they have surprised us by leaving and by doing things differently from the way we taught them.
We have had to let go of the hope that some day we will be whatever we are not now—a doctor, a famous author, beautiful.
We are sad.
We are tired.
None of these is an excuse to be a shrew, to be less than patient and loving. All of them, in fact, are an invitation to the loveliness we were made for—the hope of a better purpose, the calling to a sweeter love.
‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. ‘ Colossians 3:2-4
We were made to hope in the Invisible, and that’s just hard. So we hope in Him, but we grab and twist that hope, and unknowingly, even innocently, tether it down to the world we can see—our calling, our children, our ministry, our relationships, our purpose. And these will always disappoint, because the Invisible is preparing us for something better than we have ever seen.
This is the advantage I have as an old lady.
Each disappointment–in my circumstances, my relationships, and myself–has scraped the veil between heaven and earth a little thinner.
When I lean into this reality, I become less of a shrew. When I look into the eyes of a God to whom I am never invisible, I lose my demand to be recognized and respected by those around me.
This doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I struggle with regret of opportunities I have passed, thinking I had forever to change my mind. I struggle with my own limitations. I struggle with fear, most of all—fear of loss of loved ones, of the loss of my own health and independence. So much I used to think I could control, and of course I can’t. I never could.
What I can control (most of the time), is whether or not I am a shrew. I can be kind, bite my tongue, temper my demands. And I enjoy having doors opened for me, so if you see me, please run ahead. You’ll know me—I’m the one with white hair.
Marcia Thomas lives in a suburb of Chicago. She has been married for 36 years and has raised four handsome, self-actualizing sons. She regrets her choice of the name “Grammy” and wishes she had chosen “Nana” or “Mimi,” but it’s too late to reconsider.