Let’s start with two common definitions of grace:
- simple elegance or refinement of movement
- (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and bestowal of blessings
I’d be quite happy if both of these definitions could be applied to me as I age but, since I’ve never been accused of having simple elegance or refinement of movement before I doubt that I will suddenly develop it. I should probably focus on the second definition.
When I think of someone who is aging with grace I think of a person who confronts physical changes and limitations with cheerful acceptance. They appreciate the difference between sharing troubles and whining and complaining about them. They smile often and take great pleasure in the simple joys of life. They are interested in people and events in the world around them. They find ways to offer kindness to other people. They do all they can to maintain an active and independent lifestyle but, when they are forced by circumstances beyond their control to depend on others, they accept help with gratitude. They filter out unpleasant memories and choose to remember only the good times they’ve had.
Wow, I have some work to do if I hope to meet my own definition of aging with grace! First, I do not confront the physical changes and limitations of age with cheerful acceptance. I hate how my muscles ache and my joints “snap, crackle and pop” when I work in the yard for a couple of hours. I hate how much my feet hurt when I’ve been on them a lot – I also hate bunions, corns, calluses and blisters! I do not like the wrinkles and sagging and other skin changes. On the other hand I am grateful that I made it this far without any serious health issues 🙂
Despite what you might be thinking after reading the last paragraph, I don’t whine or complain very much and I do smile often and appreciate the simple joys of life. I’m interested in interesting people but, I do not suffer fools or bores lightly so I struggle with being more tolerant and patient. I’m very interested in national and world events – almost obsessively. I’m pretty good at finding ways to offer kindness to people, through volunteer work and my everyday interactions. I think having good manners is simply treating people with kindness and respect and that’s the way I was raised. I’m very independent and don’t like to ask for help because it feels weak (I like to be in control) but, I hope I will learn to be more gracious about asking for and accepting help as I age. Pain and medications can greatly affect our mental state so I hope if I’m dealing with that I will be able to show appreciation to the people who are there to help me. As for unpleasant memories, I admit I used to dwell too much on mistakes I’ve made or struggle with feelings of guilt and regret but, I’ve done a lot of work in those areas and I’m happy to say that I usually focus on the good times. Forgiveness helped a lot – both of myself and those who have hurt me.
Old age is that foreign country none of us has ever visited and each of us will experience the journey differently. Just like every journey we’ve taken so far, much of how we experience it is up to us. I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of elderly people and I’ve seen a few who were wonderful examples of aging with grace but, not as many as I’d like. I don’t think it’s easy. It is much easier to focus on your complaints and fall into the habit of negativity, although I think that’s true of any age. As Bette Davis once said “Old age ain’t for sissies”.
To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent – that is to triumph over old age. ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich