Aging with Truth, Trust and Courage
"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength." Betty Friedan
I can’t do some things that I used to do. There. I wrote it for all to see. I have struggled in the last few weeks with this concept – admitting that there are activities I cannot do anymore; tasks I don’t want to do anymore. It’s not about giving up or giving in. It’s about accepting change and the opportunities for self-reflection and self-growth that these changes bring.
I don’t like driving at night. I haven’t for several years, and my eyesight isn’t getting any better. The lights from oncoming cars, street lamps and storefronts in the city unsettle me. Distracted by the brightness, I took a wrong turn the last time I drove home from Denver in the dark. I couldn’t wait to get on Hwy 285, its darkness and familiar curves a welcome relief from the glare of the city. The question that arose was – Do I admit this to myself and others? Do I refuse an invitation to a holiday party at the Botanic Gardens that will mean driving through the city on a Saturday night? A bitter pill to swallow – the pill of accepting limitations.
Taking a hike with my daughter, Heidi, and grandkids, Selam and Dian, I stopped at a steep hill strewn with loose rocks. I didn’t have walking poles with me, and there were no sticks nearby to serve as substitutes. So I said, “I don’t think I can climb this hill.” Dian and I waited behind as Heidi and Selam walked on for a little while. When they returned, Selam said, “You wouldn’t have liked that,” affirming my decision to stay back. And it was difficult to admit my vulnerability, to shorten the hike for my family and to disappoint my grandkids.
As has become my habit, I turned to my Mussar study for guidance on how to acknowledge gracefully the vulnerability of aging. Of course, there is gratitude for the abundance of what I CAN still do. What other Mussar traits could I turn to? I thought of three: truth, trust and courage.
Accepting the truth about changing capabilities was the first step. It meant listening to and respecting my body, including the creaks in my knees and the floaters in my eyes. I thought of this quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky, “Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect, he ceases to love.”
The second step was trusting myself to make the decision that was right for me. I have spent a lifetime being a people pleaser, putting the other’s wishes before my own – so much that sometimes I don’t even know what I want. “No” has always been a difficult word for me to say. So how could I learn to trust my instincts and do what is best for me? I decided it’s not too late to heed the words of Golda Meir, "Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life."
And then there is courage to be vulnerable, to say “no” to climbing a treacherous hill or driving two hours in the dark to and from a meeting. And most important of all is the ability to tell myself and others that I can’t do it all. “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others,” says Brene Brown.
Truth, trust, courage – a reframing of perceived weakness into a new kind of strength.