A guest post by Susan Moon, author of “This is Getting Old,” from our September 2010 issue.
My granddaughter says she’s three and three quarters. She wants full credit for her maturity. Practicing her attitude, I’ll tell you I’m 67 and five twelfths. I want full credit, too; I’m growing up!
The posters in the Gray Panthers office say: “The best age to be is the age you are.” And Buddhism urges me to be present with what is, to see things as they are, to be grateful for the precious opportunity of human birth.
Besides, there are lots of good things about getting old, though at the moment I’m forgetting what they are. I’m not saying I feel bad right now—I feel fine. As a matter of fact I feel terrific. Nothing hurts, it’s a beautiful June morning, and I’m enjoying my cup of dragonwell tea. Hey! I’m alive! I can feel my heart beating in my chest, from the inside. How did this happen? How did I get a tongue to taste this tea?
What a miracle that my body is still here, that my heart is still beating away after all this time. Come to think of it, I wonder how many beats my heart has beaten so far. I do a little calculation, multiplying my pulse rate per minute, by hours, days, years. I come up with a number a little over one billion, give or take a hundred million. Wow! Thank you, heart.
I made a list of the good things about aging, but I’ve misplaced it… Wait, it’s coming back to me.
For starters, we’re not doing this aging thing alone. Everybody’s doing it. We get to encourage each other and help each other.
I love the people I love more than ever—my family and friends. After all this time, I realize how much kindness I have received from them.
Old friends are a particular benefit of aging. As my old friends get older, the friendships get older, too. I have two friends I’ve known since we were in nursery school together, hanging by our knees on the jungle gym. We keep each other connected to the whole arc of our lives. A few years ago, we all became grandmothers in the same year.
And nothing could be better than being my granddaughter’s grandmother. I get down on my hands and knees on the living room rug, she sits on my back, and I turn myself into her wild steed. I gallop (slowly) across the room, and with every buck she erupts in wild laughter.
Admittedly, some older people don’t produce grandchildren, no matter how hard they try. I was in that category for a while. But even if you don’t have a biological grandchild, you can become a foster grandparent and be an important presence in a child’s life. Look up “foster grandparents” on the Internet. You’ll see.
As I get older, I have less time in front of me, and less physical energy. There’s a positive side to this, too. Instead of rushing about madly to get more done in less time, I’m learning to take good care of the time I have now, to say no to extras, though I’m still working on that. It’s time to do what really counts.
It’s a good time for spiritual inquiry, for retreats, for study. When you can’t run around outside as much as you used to, you can journey inward.
My life doesn’t belong to me alone. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves for the sake of the people we love, and for the sake of the whole planet, because we are so interconnected. We can demonstrate dignity, we can manifest good cheer to others, especially younger people.
I want to learn to remain steady in the face of oil-soaked birds and beaches. My friend Louise, a peace walker and peace worker in her seventies told me: “I can handle grief and disappointment more now than when I was younger. You have to hold it so you can mentor younger people.”
I find young people surprisingly respectful and interested in me as an older person. They help me by carrying heavy bags without condescending to me, and they are curious about my life experiences, experiences that grow increasingly historic with every passing day.
Now, in turn, I want to listen to what my young friends and relatives have to say and to encourage them in whatever ways I can.
According to Buddha, impermanence is one of the three marks of existence, along with suffering and no fixed self. Impermanence is what gets us old. And thank goodness for impermanence. If we just stayed the same, like a plastic flower that gathered dust and never wilted, how attractive would that be? How much fun? I’m here now, petals curling, alive.
Susan Moon is a writer and teacher and for many years was the editor of Turning Wheel, the journal of socially engaged Buddhism. She is the author of The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi, a humor book about an imaginary Zen master, and editor of Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism. Her short stories and essays have been published widely. Her new book is This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Dignity and Humor (Shambhala Publications).