She is old, very old. The wrinkles on her skin and thinning white hair announced to anyone who sees her that she is near the finish line of life. Still, she manages a faint smile when she says good morning.
"You know, I did not think I was going to make it out of bed this morning."
"Do not you feel well," I ask.
"No, I'm not sick. Sometimes I lie in bed and just have to talk myself into a reason for getting up. Know what I mean?"
I do know what she means. Our older generation is like a kid at a birthday party who is given a gift she is not sure what to do with. We have been given the gift of many more years of living but we are not quite sure what to do with them.
The very phrase, "the gift of years" can sound hollow to a lonely older person. As my late mother-in-law famously expressed it, "Screw the golden years; you can have them." I suspect that many gray heads would find it easy to relate to her sentiment. Do not you agree?
So, what do those of us "of a certain age" do with the years that, ready or not, have been gifted to us? For many of us the stresses of aging are softened somewhat by the presence of family and grandchildren nearby. But for those who find themselves alone in the world, the process of aging with its many losses is more than just challenging.
We can bitch and moan about it. That's pretty normal. Sometimes it's even therapeutical. Old folks should be cut some slack to complain but when we find that the complaint department is closed for the duration and no one is listening to our gripes, then what? Sadly, some of us give up. We die inside long before the brain (and heart) is dead.
There is a better way. It starts with changing our attitude. What we can do is call upon our life experience, our elder wisdom, and to figure out a way to use the time we have been given. A good starting point is to lift our gaze from staring at our own navel and start thinking about how we can contribute to our world. To paraphrase JFK, "Do not ask what other people can do for you; ask what you can do for other people."
What we can do for others, especially if we are limited to home or limited in other ways, may seem inconsequential but each one of us has something unique to give. If even the flapping of a butterfly's wings has an effect on the other side of the world, does not act of kindness, a heartfelt thank you, a word of forgiveness contribute to making the world a more loving place?
The timeless words of St. Francis are mean for all ages but perhaps speak most eloquently for those of us seeking meaning in our last years. "It is in giving that we receive; in loving that we are loved."