My kid brother and I (he’s 64, I’m 76) talk often on the phone. As an opener, Ed often ponders deep questions. Questions such as:
- Why do you have to “put your two cents in,” but it’s only a “penny for your thoughts”? Where’s that extra penny going?
- What disease did cured ham actually have?
- Why are you in a movie but you’re on TV?
At other times, he’s in the mood to examine some vintage bits of advice like:
- Actions speak louder than words.
- All things come to those who wait.
- All’s fair in love and war.
Several weeks ago, he brought up the admonishment, “act your age.” The words are usually snapped at someone, of any age, who is acting inappropriate, often in a silly way. It seemed to Ed and me, “act your age” could be read as an affirmation to claim whatever age one is. I recently read this line by author Mary Pipher, “There are many lifetimes in a lifetime.” That’s it. That’s the task. Learning how to act in each life stage as it comes along.
I lived in Olympia, WA for twenty years. I had a warm circle of women friends. I was there for twenty years when I was 35-55 years old, my friends were mainly of the same age. We talked about careers. Those who were mothers shared the challenges of child raising. There came a time when talk shifted to divorce, remarriage, step-parenting. Medical stuff worked its way into our conversation: weight gain, cholesterol numbers, and the need for reading glasses. We were each other’s guides to the lifetimes we were facing.
I’ve been in Bellingham, WA for over twenty years now, and my friends and I are moving through the next series of stages. The mothers still talk about their children, of course, but the emphasis is most often on the grandchildren (and great-grands). The health concerns have a new seriousness to them, hysterectomies, cancer—so much cancer. Many are having hips and knees replaced. We talk about the things that really matter. Our faith and how to live it out. We march, demonstrate, and advocate. We care about the condition of the world, and work to combat climate change. We are passionate about politics, and are dismayed by so much going on today.
I’ve been in a book club through all the Bellingham years. When we met recently (in a Zoom-wise way) we chose our books for the next half year. One choice was Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age, by Mary Pipher, the author of the “many lifetimes” quote.
I’m certain the book will generate good conversation. As I flipped through my copy, I came across these lines in the first chapter.
“All life stages present us with joys and miseries. Fate and circumstances influence which stage is hardest for any given individual. But attitude and intentionality are the governors of the process. This journey can be redemptive if we find ways to grow from the struggles the stage offers us. Just as adolescents must find their North Stars to guide them, so must we elders maintain clarity about the kind of women we want to be.”
My club is a likely audience for discussion about the book. I found a classification that breaks down being old into three categories. The young-old are 65-74, the middle old 75-84, and the old-old over 85 years of age. Our club has three who are young-old, eleven of us are middle-old. Just right for helping each other navigate what it means to act our age.
As we move through this pandemic, old-age takes on a complicated, two-faceted challenge. We are the ones most at risk. The stay-at-home orders, the directives to wash hands, wear a mask, and keep six feet distance from others are focused primarily on the protection of us seniors. And so, we live with that reality, that fear. At the same time, for many of us this is a pleasant time. As retirees, our income hasn’t been immediately affected. Responsibility for the children lies with others. Uninterrupted time to read, ponder, and write is a joy. Television and the internet bring us the news, and Facetime, Messenger, and Zoom keep us in touch with all our community.
I believe Ed and I were correct. “Act your age” is permission giving. All ages, all stages are valuable – we’re called to live our best lives for each moment.
Thank you for joining me as I thought this through.