I came across a splashy ad recently for a new diet promising to make me “high school skinny” again. Really? Would I want to go back to being high school naive? Or high school insecure? No thanks. I think I’ve earned my squishy tummy that was home to three blessings, but thanks anyway.
We don’t much value aging in our culture. We’re bombarded by ads for products to stave off the ravages brought on by years of work and play, love and heartache. In our quick fix, disposable culture, we prize that which yields profitability, innovation and excitement. We’re not so interested in learning from the tried and true as we are in the new and improved. The relevant. And we cringe from the impending loss of our body’s agility and elasticity ... always in search of the fountain of youth.
The maturing population (with the help of advances in medicine) is defying and redefining the perceptions of and boundaries associated with aging, and I’m right on board. Still, there is no denying the change that takes place in us when we achieve longevity. Older folks often say they feel lost, lonely and marginalized. What messages are we sending them?
I spent some time in the midst of some senior members of my church recently. I noticed a common thread in the company of these lovely sages ... it is the quiet. If those born between 1925 and 1941 are coined the “silent generation,” ours is surely the noisy one. The older set isn’t always in a hurry to talk; they seem more adept at listening, even if their hearing is a bit shaky. It is a lost art today in the age of blogging, chatting, texting, e-mailing, face-booking and twittering. We can’t stop talking. How often do we really listen?
Instead of seeking the fountain of youth, why don’t we revere the peace and perspective, the confidence and calm … the wisdom that comes part and parcel with getting older? Believers would do well to lead the effort to lift up the aging to their rightful pedestal. Just dig into the book of Proverbs and you’ll see where our Creator stands on the issue. “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4: 6-7). To enjoy the freedom and discernment that comes from wisdom is “more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 4:8:11). Is there really wisdom to be gained by pursuing “high school skinny?”
I have always enjoyed older folks, but as I draw closer to club membership, I want to pay it forward. I vow to “rise in the presence of the aged and show respect for the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32), ask for their advice and listen to their stories about how it used to be. We need each other. And those silver hairs I’m sprouting? I will remind myself that “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).
Not that I would complain if youth decided to return my flat stomach … but wisdom tells me I’ve got better things to hope for.
Diane Meehl is getting older by the day in Ahwatukee Foothills, where she lives with her husband and their three children. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.