This is “today’s card,” an image that was the first to pop up on my Pinterest feed, and it seemed appropriate to this blog post.
Since my mother passed, I have gained a newfound interest in older people, more so than before. By older people, I mean those who are older than me, in their 50s or older.
Because I like to go to various support groups for different self-help reasons, I get to meet a lot of older people. The thing about those who are 50 plus is that they have life experience. Chances are, by the age of 50 one is more likely to have experienced some tragic or unforeseen turn of events, such as divorce, layoffs, or the death of a loved one. At the same time, being older doesn’t grant someone automatic wisdom, and I’ve met a few wise young people in their 20s. Young or old, it’s life experience that can make us softer around the edges.
Although I’m 40 years old, I don’t look it. Looking younger has all the obvious advantages. People compliment me, and ask what kind of skin care products I use, and what kind of foods I eat, and they say they would lie about their age if they were me, or not tell anyone. It’s a shame really, that our culture is so youth-obsessed.
The downside is that older people sometimes assume I don’t have much life experience, and while they’re generally nice to me, and show a tremendous amount more patience with me than I feel with younger people, they can be a bit dismissive. Often I find myself wanting to preface anything I say with, “By the way, I’m 40 years old, twice divorced, a career changer, and recently orphaned.” Or even just “I’m 40.” But usually I avoid it because I feel as though I’m basically saying, “I’m a big girl now!” or that I too just got my period and am not a virgin.
Sometimes I do mention that I’m 40, as in the case recently when a 72-year-old (she told me her age) customer came into the store to buy an herb to help her sleep. She didn’t want melatonin because it’s not good for breast cancer survivors, a fact (or opinion) I did not know, and said so. She started to give me advice for when I start getting mammograms, so I stopped her to let her know I just had my first mammogram (I’m a big girl now!) this year, and that I am indeed 40 years old.
“My God, I thought you were 18!” she exclaimed (I do not, by the way, look that young). When younger people are shocked by my age, I used to get a kick out of it, because I thought, Well what do you think 40 looks like? It’s not really that old. But now that I get the same response from older people, I find myself just feeling… misunderstood, I guess (the perfect time to say the St. Francis prayer!).
Neither of my marriages lasted very long, and I never had kids, so I feel like someone in limbo who doesn’t really relate to people in any generation. I meet the occasional childless–or as some like to call it, child-free–woman, and make friends. I have a few new friends who are 10 or 20 years older than I am, and some of them have kids and some don’t.
What’s nice about my older friends is that, as I mentioned, they have a lot of patience and understanding, and they don’t have to talk about themselves all the time. Rather than drain them of their time and energy by talking about myself all the time, I’m beginning to follow their example and do the same. Really listen to what people have to say. I get this opportunity at work all the time. Customers tell me about their health problems, for example, and rather than reply with a blank stare, I have begun to respond with statements like, “That must be hard,” or, if applicable, “I have a friend who had that same issue.” It’s what Wayne Dyer recommends in his book Your Sacred Self, and it really makes a difference in how people respond. They just want someone to listen and understand. Isn’t that what we all want?
What I’m beginning to appreciate, which my older friends already know, is the realization that I don’t have to be in a hurry all the time. If something doesn’t get done or something was forgotten, then it’s not as catastrophic as it once might have been. And if I don’t get what I want, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be. If someone else gets what I wanted, it’s not such a tragedy, and could be in fact a good thing, because I can be happy for that person, rather than feel that they took from some limited supply of happiness that’s no longer accessible to me.
The most profound realization of which I’m on the cusp is that it doesn’t matter if I never become anything or anyone, if I never do anything. Who is it that I’d become? What is it that I’d do? The most beautiful thing that can happen is that each day I am the best, truest version of myself, and that the actions I take are of love and other-centeredness. Intellectually I’ve known this for some time, but only now am I beginning to know it in my heart. It still doesn’t answer what I’ll do for a career, but I’m beginning not to care. When I don’t care at all, that will be real freedom.
Here’s a beautiful song that I just heard for the first time while I was writing this: