Living Well in the Juicy Years
“True adulthood… is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard-won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.”
~ Toni Morrison
Senior. Elder. Third Age. Silver tsunami. Not everyone is enamored of the words and phrases currently used to describe a mature adult. Indeed, in one of my coming of age pieces I discuss how “chronologically gifted” and “over the speed limit” are two of my favorite, creative alternatives.
But perhaps “ripe” is the clearest, most direct handle, says Sherry Ruth Anderson. In Ripening Time, the 70-something author, whose earlier work, The Feminine Face of God, was a wake-up call in my thirties, provides the compass and map for growing old with grace, agility and grit, no holds barred.
Our elder years are a new territory, she maintains, quoting eminent psychologist Carl Jung: “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”
Walking a New Road
To become ripe fruit, at its peak of sweetness, we must stop trying to go where we’ve already been. That’s comfort food, and not the path to a fulfilled, vibrant old age. And it’s difficult — hubristic, even — to assume we can know what this phase of life entails until we live it.
Anderson describes how she and two other women, all respected teachers and authors, essayed to host a conference for women elders when they were each barely 50. An audience member in her seventies cried, “What are you doing up there? You’re not elders! You don’t have a grey hair on your heads.”
This stunning disruption broke the conference wide open and led to a transformative experience in which the participants — including those on the dais — became metaphorically naked in a pioneering exploration that “penetrated our culture’s shadow about aging.”
How do we become chronologically gifted, an Elder in the truest sense, and not just over the speed limit, careening into our final decades without wisdom? Many of your reverse mortgage clients might be able to speak to this subject. Anderson writes, “We can tell from the inside. We notice that we’ve relaxed, untied and untangled ourselves. We let go of the dizzy belief that we are the center of the universe and must have an impact on everything around us. And we feel pleasure for no reason, or for every reason…a hundred things that let us know what grace it is simply to be here, in the life that we are given, in the time that we have left.”
Harvesting Our Joy
In the final chapter, “Lessons from the Harvest,” she says, “We’re a new fruit. To reach the true harvest of our lives, the point is not to know the map but to be the map. The point is to mature not for ourselves alone but for all our kin, all those who have gone before us and the children of the future.”
In his insightful poem, A Blessing for One Who Is Exhausted, John O’Donohue, while not specifically addressing the subject of aging, offers his understanding of the ripening process:
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
Finally, those who become ripe also, by and large, have a well-developed sense of humor that shines out from their well “designed” faces, as depicted in this lighthearted Summary of Life, which describes the joys of the life cycle with tongue firmly in cheek, e.g.: “At age 17 success is… Having a driver’s license. At age 70 success is… Having a driver license.”
May you, and all the chronologically gifted reverse mortgage prospects and clients you serve, ripen into your earthy, grace-filled fullness.
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