Today is my birthday. I’m sitting this morning drinking coffee, thinking about the many birthdays I’ve had. On my big 4-0, there was a surprise party with a gathering of family and friends who roasted me for what seemed like hours on end. Another birthday fell on Easter and was woven into the joy of that wonderful celebration day. Some birthdays were happy, quiet days spent receiving phone calls, opening funny cards and soaking up good wishes. Other birthdays were excruciatingly sad coming so close on the heels of the death of a loved one. I’ve had lot’s of different kinds of days because, after all, it’s really just one day in a life.
Reflecting on birthdays, I thought about something I’ve recently noticed. When I get together with people my age (OK, I knew I’d have to come clean—late, LATE 60’s), we tend to talk about our changing bodies—things don’t look or work the way they use to. We worry about every ache, pain or slip of memory and talk about how we can’t do the things we use to be able to do. We end up laughing and saying what we’ve heard “older people” say a million times—getting old is not for sissies. But, underneath is the realization, mixed with fear and anxiety, that our bodies are aging, slowing down, wearing out.
Physical decline is a reality we all must face. Though, surely we know that there is more to life. It occurs to me that there is a difference between getting old and growing old. Those who have gotten old have given up on living and forgiving, learning and becoming. Those who have grown old continue to live and forgive, learn and become. Maybe that’s what Emily Dickenson meant when she said this— “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.” That’s my birthday wish for today—that I grow old, not get old.
Today, I will spend some time with close ones and, hopefully, eat some cake—I love cake!! And I’ll take a moment to sit with John O’Donohue’s blessing For Old Age:
May the light of your soul mind you.
May all your worry and anxiousness about your age
May you be given wisdom for the eyes of your soul
To see this as a time of gracious harvesting.
May you have the passion to heal what has hurt you,
And allow it to come closer and become one with you.
May you have great dignity,
Sense how free you are;
Above all, may you be given the wonderful gift
Of meeting the eternal light that is within you.
May you be blessed;
And may you find a wonderful love
In your self for your self.
In other words, may you grow old. . .