Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming, ‘WOW What a Ride!
Let it be written on your tombstone, in your eulogy and in the sky, when you die, ” She laid down the boogie and played that funky music til she died.”
I was truly inspired by a TED video with Jane Fonda speaking about ageing (aging in US English). She said we usually think about ageing like an arch. You rise up into your middle age before beginning the descent to decreptitude in your last decades. Its such a disempowering way to think about life, and with modern technology increasing our average lifespan by many years, we should see these extra years as an opportunity.
Jane suggests its far better to think of ageing like a staircase; keep rising as long as you have breath in you. Everything in life decays with age; bodies, memory, even nature is in a process of decay and rebirth. The one thing that gets stronger with age is the human spirit. You live, you learn, resilience grows, you get comfortable with not knowing, the potential for wisdom soars.
You might say, “what about young kids? Their spirit seems rock solid!” But this is different. From the bottom of the staircase, the innocent energy of young children is beautiful and inspiring. But it hasn’t yet been sharpened by the experience of rising up a staircase and doing it even on days you don’t feel energized.
Hemingway wrote the famous line,
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.
The spirit of ageing is sharpened by being strong in the broken places. Kids don’t have this, thankfully. (For those who are interested, Ken Wilber describes this distinction as the pre-trans fallacy, confusing the child-like, undifferentiated state of oneness with an integrated wholeness that comes with age and practice. To include Wilber’s perspective, maybe a spiral staircase would work better.)
Integrated wholeness is the aim. But integrated wholeness is not a given. You only have to replace one word in Hemingway’s quote to recognize people we have all met (or been, at times).
The world breaks everyone and afterward some are bitter in the broken places.
The gift of ageing is perspective and responsibility. With all those years come many experiences, challenges and opportunities. You can’t change them now. How you choose to frame them, re-member them, re-spond to them, is ALL you.
The choice is all yours.
Are you going to let challenge make you better or bitter?
Are you going to see ageing as an affliction or an adventure?
Are you going to buy into society’s myth of ageing as pathology, or claim the full potential of experience?
Instead of thinking of your “third act” as a nuisance, see it with a new sense of optimism. Make it count. Slide into home base at the end of your days with nothing to prove and nothing to fear. After all,
“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” (John Green)