The Unstoppable Hands of Time
I just recently turned thirty. To many, the thought of this would be a point of despair. Not turning thirty necessarily, but adding another line to the tally, whatever the running total is. But me, I’m grateful. Grateful to have had another year on this planet, exploring this world, going places I’ve never been before, pushing the limits of my mind to new horizons. I’m grateful to be another year wiser, to have found answers and to have found new questions. It is not my reaction to me turning thirty, but other people’s reaction to my crossing the 3-0 threshold (‘how do you feel about that?’, ‘Thirty, eh?’ *sucks air through teeth*) that has got me thinking, however, about what it means to grow old in our society.
Drinking From the Fountain.
Is eternal youth all it’s cracked up to be? We live in a society where everyone strives for just that, slapping on anti-aging creams, dyeing their hair. Always attempting to hide the signs of having been on this Earth for longer than 25 years – the wrinkles, the grey hairs. But why is it that youth is favoured over maturity, the naivety of childhood over the wisdom of older age? The media tells us always that growing old is something we must avoid at all costs. Products are marketed as keeping us ‘youthful’, and images of young, radiant, immaculate models adorn billboards at every turn. People proclaim to want to die young rather than face the ‘inconvenience’ of growing old. But are we missing something in our assault on ageing? By failing to recognise the gifts the older generations have, and in not being open to receive those, surely society suffers.
With the wrinkles comes wisdom, and trapped behind the locked doors of nursing homes is a forgotten fountain of knowledge and experience. Other cultures revere their elders and acknowledge everything they have to teach. How is it that ours have become the forgotten generations? As if owning an extensive library, yet never taking the time to read, we are missing out on life lessons that teach us so much more than our personal experiences can provide. By learning from the observations of older generations, their mistakes and their triumphs, we can incorporate these lessons into our lives without needing to go through the same processes – our growth accelerates and knocks on down the line to our children. Storytelling between generations has been a pivotal part of human development and evolution. The separation that now exists in our culture between the young and the old is damaging an ancient line of traditional wisdom that has been passed down through all of history. When we engage in the exchange of collective knowledge, we are saving ourselves the time and energy of starting from scratch, of finding our way in the dark and wasting precious years learning the things others before us already know.
A poem often accredited to Nadine Stair, written in her 85th year, entitled ‘If I Had to Live My Life Over’, reflects on what she would do differently if she were to live her 85 years again. Only from the vantage point of many years stacked up can she look back and see the changes she would make, and in doing so give guidance to the rest of us:
If I had my life to live over,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I am one of those people who has lived sensibly and sanely,
hour after hour, day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else.
One after another,
Instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer,
A hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring,
And stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. We can learn so much from those that are years ahead of us in their journey. Behind old eyes lie entire lifetimes of discoveries and teachings, and that is where real beauty resides. Not in the perfection of youthful cheeks, but instead in the gray-haired lady’s laughter lines that tell of a life lived, lessons learnt, a thousand joys, a thousand sorrows. Nadine’s teaching for the rest of us: relax, don’t take life so seriously and dare to make more mistakes. Youth is in the heart and is with us all through life, no matter the number of years behind us. Wisdom, however, is the domain of those that have ridden the tide of the years in and out more times than they care to count, and it is theirs alone. In bringing the generations back together, we, the young ones, have so much to learn, things we can go on to teach others, including the generations that follow us.