Are You Ready To Be The Smartest Person In The Room?

Age. Love it or hate it, if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll have to face it.

January is a busy birthday month in my family. So much aging! Both of my daughters celebrate birthdays in this dark, cold month. As they edge into their thirties, I can’t help feeling nostalgic for their youth; or parts of it anyway. And equally, I feel grateful for the present moment.

I’m lucky in that I get happier with age; more content, more at ease in my own skin.  So, I don’t spend time mourning my glory days. I actually think I can feel my glory days approaching. As a woman in my fifties, I feel incredibly fortunate to be this age during this point in history. Never before has there been such an abundance of information available on health. The resources available to us to help us live longer, healthier lives is astounding. Opportunities for a healthy old age are ours for the taking. Being a feeble little old lady is no longer a given for me. Exciting times.

As I embrace this brave new world, and look forward to being a happy, sassy old crone, I am at the same time, increasingly cognizant of what I’ve lost.

The thing that starts happening in our forties and fifties is that we start losing our elders. Whether they die or are victims of Alzheimer’s, or Dementia, we begin to lose their presence in our lives. As this has happened in my family, I’ve noticed a feeling I have never experienced before. Of course there’s grief. But it was deeper and more complex than that and it took a while to pin it down.  It really took seeing loss from a different perspective.

A dear friend of mine lost her dad last year. He was a large presence ~ in his family and his community. Perfectly imperfect. A loving, charismatic Patriarch. A force of love and humor to all he came into contact with.

Witnessing his family’s journey through grief has taught me so much about love, loss, and faith…and the “something else” I hadn’t been able to put my finger on when grieving my own losses.

When we lose a parent, an aunt, uncle, or any elder we look up to, we lose the gift of being a kid.

When we’re actually kids, we don’t appreciate the gift of having a mentor; being a student of sorts. We just want to get out there and make our own decisions, dammit!

But, once we get over ourselves, we revel in the ability to sit at a kitchen table with someone who has lived more of this life than we have. Someone who loves us and understands the promises and perils of our human existence.

We may not actively consider ourselves children when we’re in the presence of our aging parents. I know I didn’t. But now, as I face the next thirty or so years, I am acutely aware that there are fewer and fewer people out there who think of me as a kid. I’m increasingly expected to be the wisest person in the room, which was kind of alarming at first. And some days, still is.

I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had so much time with my parents, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers-in-law, and the parents of a few close friends. While I long for one more afternoon at a kitchen table, I also understand what I want to bring to that table as the elder.

Whether we have children of our own or not, we’re elders. And whether or not the kids seem to be listening, what we offer up as an example makes a difference. We don’t have to be perfect. I think it’s better if we don’t aspire to that. But do keep aspiring to something. Be alive. Be vibrant. Be passionate about something, and share it. Be available to those who are following us down this crazy path of life. They might not know it right now, but they’ll miss us when we’re gone.

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