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Balancing Act: The Joys of Aging

February 2010 issue

NAMPA Award: First Place, Senior Issues


By Candace O’Donnell


The aging process is often viewed as a sad evolution. In fact, it can be joyful. Let’s count just a few of our blessings.


We Don’t Have to Impress Anyone

There’s no need to climb any more ladders — career or social. We can spend time with the people we truly enjoy, who appreciate us for what we are, not how much money we make or how attractive we are — people who judge us on the internals, not the externals. Life is too short to have our energy siphoned away with negatives.

This means we’re free of the burden of “political correctness” — left or right. We shouldn’t be strident or overbearing. It no longer matters if we convince our listeners, but in Lillian Hellman’s words, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashion.”

On a practical and personal level, I have stopped cooking elaborate meals to impress company. My guests know I can be a creative hostess — oh, yes — the layered verrine, the Harvey Wallbanger cake! Now, I grab delicious prepared treats at the farmer’s market and spend my precious leisure reveling in the presence of cherished friends.


We Finally Understand Time

We know time is a valuable, finite commodity. We don’t want to waste it on “trivial pursuits.” We refuse to cram our schedules with meaningless obligations.

We realized, with some surprises, that childhood flashes by in a blink, so we insist on savoring every possible moment with our children and grandchildren. We now believe, deep in our souls, that “babies don’t keep.”

For myself, I’d rather cuddle a baby, romp with a toddler, or watch a middle-schooler play baseball than make small talk at a gathering of strangers, attend a board meeting, or polish the silver.


We’ve Lived Long Enough that Our Children Appreciate Us

Mark Twain put it best. “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

This is especially striking when our children have children of their own. With a sudden epiphany, they “get it” — the piercing, breathtaking love a parent has for each child, the worry, the pride, the endless sacrifices and rewards.

This epiphany came for me years ago when I was scheduling dental appointments for my four kids — what a hassle! Suddenly I remembered that my mother, a young divorcee, had faced a far more serious problem. How on the earth would she pay my dentist? This put my whining into perspective.


We Are at Peace with Our Accomplishments

At some point, we must face the reality that, no, we probably won’t make partner or CEO, earn a billion dollars, or win the Nobel Prize, but we might have launched happy adults or have been a steady coworker or a supportive friend.

At this stage, most of us are content to bloom where we are planted. I’ll never star on Broadway, but I’m profoundly grateful that I’ve had the honor of performing in our local theater, especially the Fulton Opera House.


We Can See the Grand Design

Dr. Martin Luther King predicted, “The arc of history is long, and it tends towards justice.” We can comprehend this in global and national history and in our personal lives as well.

Despite staggering tragedies that we might have witnessed or even experienced, we now have the distance of years to look back and recognize the many, many times we were — in William Wordsworth’s magnificent phrase — “surprised by joy.”

We recall those delicious serendipities, the chance meeting with the person we were destined to marry, the miracles when we were at exactly the right place at the perfect moment to provide crucial help. We actually had a guest rescue a drowning boy on the beach directly across from our summer home.

We see the times, without number, that one door closed, only to have another open.

This is why I keep a gratitude journal every night. It’s my running thank-you note to God.


There you have just a few of my reasons to celebrate aging. What are yours?

Isn’t it a relief to finally be grown up?

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