Celebrating Senior Month and Aging Beauty

by Sr. Martinette Rivers

As the world celebrates an “Ode to Elders” during this month dedicated to us, I think this lovely song is a great beginning. In the song, “Get It Together” by India Aire, she says “You’ll never be happy and you’ll never be whole until you find the beauty in growing old.”

Aging is a universal condition. But the way we try to hide it, you would think it was a plague. Everyone knows that we are growing older. I don’t ever remember being afraid of “oldness.”

In a youth-oriented society, we do not see the old as models of success. Rabbi A. Heschel, in his book, The Insecurity of Freedom, calls aging people the true “gold mines of a culture.” Most societies struggle with how they are to treat their elders. What do we do with those declining in years? With age comes maturity and wisdom. As we read in Leviticus 19:32, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” As we treat another may we be treated as well.

Researchers find that the effect of a person’s attitude about aging has a lasting impact on how long they live. Attitude can be a problem if we think that we get worse as we become older and that we have less pep and feel less useful. Those oldsters need an attitudinal change before it’s too late. Getting older is not a negative experience for me, but it’s difficult to escape negative stereotypes about aging in our society. The more I read, and even at times experience this as I grow older, I reflect on The Seven Wonders of Aging that I wrote when I was in my sixties. They are still my suggestions for people to age gracefully, with an open mind, heart and spirit. They have helped me to create a stage where I feel comfortable aging with God, as the producer and we as the actors and actresses. It is on that stage that we will learn the mystery, the unseen beauty and the joy in aging. They are the motivating forces for me as I grow older, day by day.

Finding the beauty in growing old not only helps us, but rejuvenates the spirit of others in some way. My plan was and is to help others to savor and enjoy the best of their years. It can be a period of new vision. The blessings we have received we must also share with others. Without a spiritual purpose we can easily slip into ageist attitudes which can rob us of our joy and purpose in life as we age.

There is no one way, right or wrong, to grow older. Why should growing older be such a big deal? “Grey hair, wrinkles and smile lines are beautiful accessories,” according to Naomi Wolf. I tend to agree with her. She reminds us oldsters how futile it is to try to remain ageless and focus all our attention on our exterior looks.

Regardless of our outward appearance as we grow older, we are beautiful at our very core. We can’t stop our inner beauty from glowing forth. Beauty is found in respecting the needs of others, as well as in our response to their needs. Beauty is found in humor, the honor of giving and goodness in compassion. These are found more often than not in nursing homes.
Consider this during the Senior Month of May, an older person you know who is attractive and beautiful because of their age. “Beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder, and therefore beauty comes in many, many forms.” Psychiatrist Gerald May in Additions and Grace.

The moment an aging person begins to delight in beauty, their mind, body and spirit are beginning to see with the heart. As we each spend time reflecting on our age, we might ask ourselves this question: What kind of badges of aging do we have? Wrinkles, thinning grey hair, gnarled knuckles, shaky hands, smiles on our faces, wobbly knees – all genuine tales of our lives, work, joys and struggles which become more beautiful each passing day. What shape and form our future will take on, only God knows. Truly aging is a great art! When will God’s masterpiece of us be finished? Let’s go out dancing, laughing and smiling. In spite of the mystery in our aging, our beauty will live on in the hearts of others.

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