"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gray is Good

By Micky Wolf

If you think this has something to do with that other 50 shades of grey stuff, best to stop now. I’m talking gray. As in aging.

Sitting in my comfortable chair in my comfortable study one recent day, two events within the course of a couple hours threatened to upend my world. Not in an earth-shattering-knock-down-way; more akin to feeling a God-initiated sharp thump to the knuckles—that would be the writing hands. 

Event #1—often interested in learning more about the craft of writing, I chose to watch an excellent and inspiring five-minute video by a [younger] author who had just had a book published. Fine. Except her topic was one near and dear to my heart, one I address in varying ways through my own writing, workshops and retreats.

Event #2—often interested in learning more about being the best person I can be, I chose to read an excellent and inspiring blog email by a [younger] author who had a successful online coaching business. Fine. Except her topic was another one near and dear to my heart, one I address in varying ways through my own writing, workshops, and retreats.

Sigh. Oh, to be a twenty or thirty something again.

After an appropriate couple of hours—don’t groan, it used to take days or weeks—of feeling sorry for myself [self-help folks usually identify this as having a pity party] I gently but firmly reached around, metaphorically speaking, to the back of my scrunched up neck and tugged with a fair amount of intensity. End of party, time to resume working. 

While I would hesitate to suggest feeling sorry for oneself as the best choice to dealing with blows to the psyche—or to one’s sense of mission and purpose—this recent experience has proved enlightening in several ways. 

Insight #1

Gray hair may hasten to shout we are nearer to the end of our journey rather than the beginning; however, defining the possibilities of being fully engaged in life by the hues of our follicles is to live as if aging is a death sentence. Well, it is, but, the dead part doesn’t manifest until the end, which means your last breath. And who knows when that will be? 

For many folks, it is not uncommon for those first gray hairs to show up in our twenties or thirties. As well, the aging process begins the moment we take our first breath. But rather than focus on “I’m getting closer to the end”, it seems we, and others, would be better served to embrace God’s truth—He has created each of us for a specific time, generation, and purpose, and in the process, imbued us with all we need to live that unique life. Yes, He also knows the length of our days, but instead of fretting about how long and how many, we need to focus more on “being about our Father’s business” in whatever manner or form that happens to be. 

Allowing our sense of worth and value to be influenced primarily by our chronological age gives ‘a number’ an inordinate amount of power to immobilize or distract us from living a full life.

Insight #2

Honestly and sincerely accepting the reality of one’s chronological age does not mean letting go of dreams, hopes, and desires. In fact, I have come  to the conclusion the exact opposite is true: the more we embrace the whole of our age—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically—the greater likelihood we will be persons of deep peace, joy, and contentment. 

There is something about aging that can be very freeing, if we are willing to flow with the process rather than push against or resist it. This kind of freedom is invigorating—a far cry from its counterpoint of assuming a position of giving up. When we choose flowing rather than fighting, we open ourselves to new things, new people, new experiences. And for good measure? Some surprising delights and bountiful blessings. 

Insight #3

If the sin of comparison is odious, we seem especially vulnerable to it as we begin to transition through the later stages of life. Such comparing is double-edged: if we’re not casting self in the light of other people and their successes or failures, we’re comparing our older life with our younger life.

The years leading to retirement from the regular work regimen, and certainly in the years that follow, can provide great opportunity for fluidity and spontaneity. While it may be true we will have significantly less disposable income or regularly feel the aches and pains of our aging bodies, it will be our choice whether we choose to view these realities as unrelenting limitations—or embrace them as freeing us for new experiences to love and serve God and others. Less stuff, less expense. And maybe we can’t run a marathon, but we can certainly walk—or roll—a few feet to the nearest neighbor, or say hello and smile to the person behind us in the grocery checkout. 

Bottom line at any age? Comparing ourselves with others is a sin and results in little more than fertilizing the soil our soul with the sour fruit of discontent and disappointment.

Embracing the gray…

Enter your own life—with gusto, courage, bravery—and a renewed sense your age and state of being may be a sign of years lived, but certainly not by any measure, an indication it’s all over but the viewing and the weeping. God called each of us into existence because He deemed our life to be a gift—for the plans and purposes He knows best

There is no denying we live in a culture that adores, even worships youth and all that encompasses. That’s sad, especially when it’s easier than ever to set aside the aged and elderly among us, often to the point of isolating them from the healthier aspects of bustling family or community life. At the same time, maybe what we haven’t always realized is how each of us—beyond our twenties, thirties, even forties—may be acquiescing in small or large ways to believing our age does define our wherewithal to be vibrant, contributing members of the world around us.

So, showing some gray? What next? Well, there’s always the coloring-over option, which works for awhile if one so chooses. But more effective? A beating heart. That’s it. Go. Be. Do. Run—or stroll, if the knees tend to holler. With open arms and a willing spirit, move through your day and savor each moment. Remember: gray is a color, but when it becomes a mood, an attitude, or a belief that defines and confines, it may well be time to toss it out of your thoughts and feelings. 

Oh, to be a twenty or thirty-something again? Not really. Graying and aging, after all, do a lot to inform us that the experiences of the years often provide wisdom, peace and joy, only available as a result of an enduring and unfolding journey.

Do I tend to view my life through the lens of a number?

How do I feel when I see the gray? Feel the effects of aging?

Am I living half-heartedly because of my age? 
Have I given up on my dreams, hopes, desires?

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