By Kris Neri
Getting old can suck. I developed a bang-up hamstring muscle pull last month. A nasty one that started with my aching knee and didn’t let up until it wrapped around my hip. The really frustrating part is that every time I think it’s on the mend, I try to begin the Tai Chi regimen my New Years resolutions called for way back in January, and it flairs up again. While it is making some progress, I’ve finally accepted some of this pain will probably be with me until January 1 rolls around again next year.
So…what does that have to do with getting old? Sure, younger people suffer injuries, too. But their bodies seem more resilient than mine is these days. I didn’t even develop the muscle strain in some cool, hip way, like rappelling down a cliff. No. My 17-pound cat slept on my knee during the night, and I didn’t manage to move him before twisting my leg.
Muscles become less flexible, joints tightening, eyesight goes — heck, even my hair’s root day rolls around with increasing urgency, and if I could still remember my natural color, it’s getting harder to verify.
No question, as Betty Davis once said, “Old age is not for sissies.”
But maturity, if that’s what I’m achieving, isn’t all bad. Because while my body slowly fuses into a pre-dead fossil state (okay, a hamstring injury, coupled with a 2-story house, has me feeling like Methuselah), my mind seems to be growing more elastic. I get it…what Oscar Wilde meant when he said, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
I understand so much now that I didn’t appreciate when I was younger.
I now get that what other people think of me doesn’t matter one bit. They see the world through their filter, as I do, and if that means I have to live without their approval, I’ll survive. Maybe even thrive. But I also understand that we’re all entitled to basic respect, and if someone doesn’t give that to me, they shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves off my radar.
I get that the stuff of women’s magazines — how I should look, what I should wear, how much I should weigh, wear my hair, etc., etc., etc., — holds all the value of cow pies. Well, I never really cared about that stuff, I just thought I should.
I get that fear hobbles us more effectively than muscle strains. But that it’s in our power to cut it out of our lives, just that it’s in our power to open ourselves to the joy we too often push aside, as if we’re somehow undeserving of it.
I get that limiting ourselves to the kind of people we’ve always befriended, the people just like us, only permits us see through eyes just like our own — while seeing life though the eyes of people we might have avoided at one time will grant us entry to vistas we never imagined.
I get that none of us gets through life unscathed. Tragedy enters every life. We all walk through passages of brilliant sunlight, but we also all know what it’s like to trudge through darkened tunnels that seem to go on forever. But if we never knew sadness, how could we appreciate joy? If we never experienced sorrow ourselves, how would we ever learn compassion?
That’s the gift of maturity. Am I wise? Oh, no! I’m still very much a work in progress, and I muddle through every day. It’s just that I feel more comfortable in my own skin. Instead of rushing to the judgments I’ve been programmed to hold, I now find myself living for the fun of finding truths in unexpected guises.
And I’m betting this is just the beginning. From my middle-aged roost, rather than dreading crone-dom, I welcome it, even if I don’t want it coming at me too fast. I never expected the time of rigid muscles to lead to a new flexibility of ideas, of an unexpected confidence in my right to laugh at the stuff I once used to sweat.
So what does it matter if I have to hold books at arm’s length to read them? I see more now than I did when my vision was 20/20.