Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Age is more than a number

I sense its approach in the creaking of my joints, in the graying of my hair, in the lines and spots that creep across my skin, and in the veins that become more pronounced...the turning of the years, the relentless march of age.   I turned thirty-five recently, and although I realize that isn't really old, I can remember when my mom was my age, and at the time I thought that seemed ancient.  My mom appeared youthful then; her hair remained dark for many years and her smile was so bright for me, the joy of her life.  She was beautiful and creative and complex.  And I, of course, saw her only as a mother in the narrow confines of my life.  She was youthful until I compared her to the other mothers, and although she was superior in many ways, she was the oldest of those I knew.

Time flies, and I find myself standing in her place, a mother, and yet more.  A conflicting mix of desires, interests, fears, and demands on my time, my heart.  Fortunately, culture has shifted so that I'm not quite an older mom, and I know many women my age and older who are still waiting, debating, seeking, or avoiding motherhood and family obligations.  To my kids, though, 35 seems incredibly old (and there are days that they make me feel it, too).  In their demands and in their connection, I wonder how (if) they see me outside of the role of "mother".  I suppose that is not something they can or wish to grasp at this point, and to be honest, I continue to struggle to find "me" within (and outside of) all the diverging and changing labels.

They say that age is just a number, and sometimes I agree.  On regular days, it's quite a surprise to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wonder momentarily, "Who is that stranger?",  as the changes I observe on the outside don't match what I feel on the inside. Mostly, I still feel like that child waiting to grow up and for it all to feel real.  I smile with recollection as I speak with my college students because I can remember feeling similarly, can remember precisely the struggles and doubts and triumphs of early adulthood.  I don't long to repeat those years or see them as golden days; no, you couldn't pay me to go back to any earlier period in my life.  The gift of age, I guess, is the comfort you gain in your own skin (as loose as it becomes), the confidence in all the lessons learned (and seeing the beauty in the scars).

At 35, I feel that I'm finally finding my passion once again.  I have a job that I love and that I feel well suited for.  I've learned a lot (the hard way) over the past few years about letting go of my own need for control and trusting God (I'm still a work in progress).  I've relaxed enough to start enjoying my children more and to see them as the beautiful individuals that God has created them to be.  All of these are gifts.  With the gifts, however, also comes some grief.  To reach this point in life, there are also dreams that I have to let go of.  Although I hope to always continue growing and learning, some things are unlikely.  I will never be a prodigy at anything at this point.  It is doubtful that I will become famous (not that I would necessarily want to be), and extensive world travel seems dubious (although reaching the point of being able to take vacations is certainly a bonus).  There is always more that remains unknown than the little knowledge I carry inside me.  It seems encouraging to tell a child "you can be anything you want to be", and "you can do anything if you work hard enough" and yet that is not reality for most of us.  We have differing gifts, resources, and levels of dedication.  Part of maturity is understanding  who we are and committing to live that to the fullest.  It's accepting our reality, working to change what we can, and finding gratitude in the beauty of life as it is.  I'm taking steps in that direction and am so very grateful for this stage of my life and all the gifts that surround me.  

 While I don't feel anywhere near midlife, 35 is ushering in not so much a crisis but a more reflective (existential?) period.  Thoughts of age bring serious reflection and lingering questions about the legacy I'm creating.  My life continues speeding on, until one day, when it will suddenly stop.  How can my life make a difference for my family, those whom I serve, my community, and my world?   When my time is over, my name will be forgotten except for those whom I have loved and who have loved me in return.  What difference will I have made?  What dreams remain unrealized and which are attainable?  How is God calling me in this phase of life to continue, to surrender, and to dream new dreams?  What is ahead, and what do I need to be focusing on now?  I'm grateful for the gift of time to contemplate, for the ability and health to make choices, and for the reflection and gratitude that comes from age and experience.

I love this picture, of my grandmother and John's maternal grandparents 
together before our wedding  (John's grandfather has since passed away).  
I love their smiles, even as they are unaware of the picture being taken.  
I love the strength and confidence of the two women, the matriarchs of their families.

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