Time is a gift to us all and the condition we find our bodies in at the end of our time is not to be disdained but displayed proudly.
I find it somewhat sad and disconcerting that after acquiring abundant wisdom and a sense of well-being as we age how some want to conceal or ignore the physical markings on their bodies it has taken all those years to acquire. Sure, I’d love to always have well-toned muscle tissue, smooth skin and thick hair, but humans are not figures in a wax museum. We needn’t be ashamed of the more rough and wrinkled countenance that comes with aging. The wear and tear that frequently starts showing up extensively as we hit our 60’s and beyond are signs that we have weathered what life has thrown at us.
It’s odd how our society values the experience that comes with time but not necessarily the package it comes in. It isn’t easy for most of us to accept the slow deterioration of our once strong and youthful bodies and even in death some of us it seems are still unwilling to be portrayed as an elder person.
Take for example the photos of those I found here on the obituary pages of my local newspapers. This seems to be the norm nowadays. We are seeing fewer pictures of the deceased as they were just a few short years before their death at 60, 70, 80 and older, replaced instead by those taken at a time in their life when they were just married, out of college or beginning their first jobs decades ago. Do the children of the deceased do this, wanting to view their parents forever young and submitting these photos for everyone else to share in? Or is this a final request by the people themselves before passing on? Wanting to be remembered in their youth as if to say the rest of their life has no value.
This isn’t an angry old man’s diatribe against today’s youth. If I could gain it all back through some concoction or time machine I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. But we haven’t been dealt such a hand, nor or we likely too.
The journey towards our “senior years” has left us with the effects our efforts have had on our bodies. Our wrinkled skin, bulging midline, slightly stooped demeanor and thinning gray hair are emblematic of our ability to survive a life where many of our friends, relatives and acquaintances haven’t; either dying from childhood diseases, crime, wars, domestic abuses, highway accidents or some catastrophic event like floods, tornadoes and fire.
We have also survived our own foolish choices that often had physical consequences detrimental to long term health or squandering our time and resources with little consideration for the future. Somehow we always thought we had time to overcome these misguided actions.
But it is time itself that teaches us if we allow it and with time comes the slow erosion of physical attributes. Our culture is so obsessed with avoiding this inevitability that we throw good money at commercial products that promise us youthful appearances. For those who can afford it (and many who really can’t) there are now thousands of cosmetic products and numerous surgical procedures available to postpone the effects of time. The waste of resources for this vanity too often forgets that diet and exercise, not creams, tummy tucks and face lifts, will ease us into an older age where we can still be active and useful.
There’s no denying that I would like to remain forever young but that is an age old fantasy that we all share and one that snake oil salesmen keep exploiting to relieve us of our hard-earned income. I’m not ashamed of how time has changed my physical appearance. Looking “hot” and stylish no longer consumes my time and money and I am better for it. I worry less and my self-esteem is at an all-time high.
Longevity is not something to fear. It is an award I have earned for successfully reaching an age that often eludes many other people. On other days, those same obituary pages will also have death notices for people who died long before their time.
I may not be able to read the street sign less than 50 feet away without prescription lenses anymore but I can see the future much clearer than someone who has few life experiences and no sense of history. Many my age can’t compete with today’s youth on the athletic fields, pools and courts but we can coach and advise them to help them find their strengths in order to be the best they can.
The package may have withered over time but the contents are still viable and can benefit those who have yet to live life as fully as I have. The superficiality of a youthful appearance has its time and place in our lives and on occasion I find myself reflecting back on those times. But when I die I want people to see me for what I have become, and that entails a veneer that exemplifies the journey of a long, experiential life that cannot be completely duplicated by any other human being