Dateline Seattle: The “A” Word
(Note: This article is a reprint. It’s dedicated to a friend who still cannot accept that he has aged. I know that there are many out there who are like him. I hope when they read this, they will realize that, in the words of Polish aphorist and poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, youth is the gift of nature, but aging is a work of art.) Aging, as a topic, has always caught my attention because I know people cannot escape its inevitability, You wake up one morning and you see yourself in the mirror quite differently. The laugh lines have increased in number. The gray or white hairs are too many to count. Your wrinkles are just too deep to miss. Your hairline has started to recede. Your boobs are now sagging. What was once an attractive face is now droopy. You no longer look the way you used to be. Perhaps time for a plastic surgery or Botox. The “A” word has finally caught you. You have aged. The more I read about this topic, the more I realize that aging is really as personal and unique as each individual makes it. To some, aging sends a strong intimation of mortality. It frightens them because it signals the beginning of the end of everything one has built. Conversely, others see it as a time to make up for lost opportunities; to resolve any unfinished business that ranges from forgiving someone who had trespassed against them to loving someone however unlovable the person makes oneself to be. There are those who welcome the aging process with open arms. Age is after all just a number, they say. Aging is not as dreaded as it sounds. After all, in many cultures, the elderly are honored, respected, and considered a source of wisdom. No one captures this better than Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish writer, who wrote, “No wise man ever wished to be younger.” Across gender, however, there appears to be vast differences in how men and women view aging. While men generally associate aging with experience, wisdom and physicality, most women I know, but not all, tend to focus on their physical appearance as they grow older. Of course, looks are important. Men are initially attracted to looks. Nothing is wrong with maintaining one’s beauty or appearance. A few men I know are in fact obsessed with their looks. But for women – and men – to be preoccupied by their physical appearance as if it is the only thing that matters in life is the height of vanity. I happen to be of the opinion that a woman who is beautiful at 20 will be beautiful at 50 and will be beautiful at 80. A rose by any other name still smells as sweet. The same can be said of men. Which brings me to the more important thing that we need to focus on as we age – one’s inner beauty. Translation: There is no substitute for good character, good attitude, and good personality. The consequences of aging in both men and women such as sunken skin and depression due to hormonal and psychological changes are unavoidable. But in the hierarchy of things called life’s continuum, there is no substitute for inner beauty. I’m just shooting the breeze here. Aging is not the end of the world for me. I’ve had so many struggles and I often emerge enlightened. I’ve encountered so many conflicts and I often emerge wiser. I’ve been through so much in life and I still find life meaningful. I can’t for the life of me feel that I am weaker, less valued or less important. The men and women I’ve met in my journey have all been good to me. A few are outright boneheaded that I sometimes wonder why God created them. But without them I would not have learned to depend, trust, smile, praise, encourage and love. Afraid of aging? A healthy old fellow, who is not a fool, is the happiest creature living (Sir Richard Steele).