The aging process is an intriguing journey through ups and downs, joys and sorrows, successes and failures, anticipation and dread. It begins the moment we’re born and ends when we die.
And somewhere along that life path, as we change roles and move from child to adolescent to adult, our emotions often shift from being excited about growing up to being apprehensive about growing old. Metaphorically speaking, our lives seem to glide ever-so slowly along a continuum of going from gains to losses.
That’s not to say that gains cannot follow us into “seniorhood.” They can and do, if we invite and pursue them. But there always is that moment of recognition for many of us when we suddenly realize that aging seems to be slowly shifting from friend to enemy. When does that happen?
As children there is so much to indicate that we’re growing up: the beginning of speech, the end of diapers, the start of school. Shift to adolescence and we can’t wait to earn our driver’s license, date, kiss, plan for college and choose a career. With adulthood come goals like having a home of our own, settling into a work life, selecting a marriage partner and beginning to raise a family.
As the eagerly anticipated changes of growing up slow down a bit, what suddenly seems to appear are the challenges of noticing and accepting the variety of indications that we’re growing old. For some of us the signs and symptoms are non-threatening and for others they’re frightening announcements that we’re approaching the end of our lives.
When gray hair sprouts noticeably and very unexpectedly at varying ages, the change may give us pause for thought. Some of us choose to ignore it and others elect to make it disappear. Some of us are very proactive about addressing and even attacking the signs of aging, and to our bodies’ benefit we exercise, we cream, we are proactive about maintaining a strong, healthy and youthful lifestyle.
But physical indications are not alone in the aging continuum. Some changes are invisible. Memory may become less acute and energy can slowly begin to diminish.
The question I’ve been pondering is just when do we sense that we’re changing, growing old? It varies with each of us I think. For some it may be when we hit 40. For others it comes at 70 or 75. I know youthful folks in their 90s who are wide open to accepting the changes – and ignoring them as they reach out for more of life.
And the conclusion I’m coming to is that, to a large extent, how we age and grow old is often a matter of choice. We may not be able to choose what happens to us, but we can always select our response. Attitude seems to be the determining factor.
Aging has to happen but it doesn’t have to be our enemy. We can stay friends and move on, and it can be our invitation to continue to adjust, advance and keep growing.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”