I had the good fortune to renew a relationship with a friend I had not seen for many years. He knew me during a rough patch and curious about my current frame of mind he asked me, “Are you happy?”
His memories of me were fraught with personal and business crisis so it surprised him when I answered that I had never been happier; that my so-called elder years were filled with joy and meaning.
Later that day my words sunk in for me as well; never been happier? That was quite a statement. How could it be that in the twilight of my life, decades from the top of my profession, a tenuous retirement fund reminding me of a hundred capricious decisions, a body dealing with an expanding waist and a brain with shrinking neurons – how did I ever conclude, never been happier!
I was not blessed by a guru tapping me on the shoulder with her magic peacock feather granting me shaktipat, or instant enlightenment. But there was a moment that in many ways could be described as equally dramatic… when I first heard a faint inner voice pronounce “You are not a victim.”
When I took that declaration to heart, regret dissolved into resolve; shame gave way to service and self-loathing to self-love. In short, I had a choice. I could conclude that my life was at the beginning of the end, or at the end of the beginning with new chapters waiting to be written.
To be accurate, it hasn’t been exactly Phoenix from the ashes, and I can’t pinpoint a single moment in time when miraculously I went from grump to gramps. It was a number of years blended together into a time frame entitled doing the work.
It took a gradual shift away from identifying my future based on re-writing an idealized version of the past.
Equally necessary was a gradual dispelling of fearing old age as a slow, inevitable slide into the Jacuzzi tub at the nursing home.
And finally, the most difficult lesson of all, a gradual, personal surrender to the process of “letting go” and giving myself over to the blessings of grace, as in the phrase, Aging Gracefully. Assuredly, for an atheist and a natural born cynic, forging a definition of “Grace” was a thorny challenge!
Often, I had swayed in reverence to the lovely hymn, “Amazing Grace,” but never actually understood the lyrics. When I begin to conceive of God as a higher power in a spiritual rather than religious narrative, the meaning took form. There wasn’t anything I had to do to earn grace, it was simply there for me to accept and absorb; I simply had to let go and give myself over to a world that was benevolent and sufficient unto itself.
I could stop struggling!
Reality makes it unmistakably clear that as an older man there is a steady downward slide of a daunting number of the measurements used to buttress our ‘manly’ self-esteem. The relief comes from recognizing that the number of dumb bell chest reps you do is vanity.
I am not a victim of age. My choice is to live my remaining years aging gracefully, with kindness, tolerance, forgiveness and compassion (the qualities we already possess when we come into the world – in a state of grace).Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us hom