Aging alone

Back when I was teaching, we took a field trip to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. There were these cool machines with cameras that would age a photo depending on life choices. Are you a smoker? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? And so on went the questions.

One of my junior highers got me to pose for the camera. My mistake was not taking over the controls afterwards. Having already gone through the process once, he knew all of the answers to age my photo as much as possible. He ignored my protests as the screen spun out an image of a worn out old lady who eerily resembled me.

Thanks, kid.

I remember that photo sometimes when I find a new gray hair or a neck wrinkle or an age spot I never noticed before. The realization that one is aging is hard for many people; however, as a single, I wonder if aging alone is different. Not harder, but different.

As a single, there is no togetherness in disintegration. It’s just a party of one who watches the body in the mirror stoop and droop a little more each year. A party of one who gets pitied as she grays because there go her chances to snag a husband and, if she doesn’t have children, she can’t even attribute the grays to the honorable occupation of child-rearing.

His eyelids sag and he gets an extra roll of fat at his waistline.

There is no together giggling at age creeping over two bodies become one. It is just her facing irreversible doom as she watches those creeping spider veins.

There is no one to notice that mole on his back slowly changing colors. No one to miss that tooth except him.

Those freckles that once were becoming are overcome by age spots and they’ve scattered farther than she ever imagined. Her body is no longer what it used to be. And sometimes she’s glad she doesn’t have to share it.

I read through 1 Peter recently, about beauty being internal rather than external. Because remember, these bodies were not made to last forever. Whether one is aging together or aging alone, that truth is comforting.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear other perspectives. What has it been like for you to age alone, man or woman, single or widowed? Or what has it been like for you to age beside someone else? Maybe you’ve had both experiences. What are some things you’ve learned over the years?

I once was young, but now…

I found my first gray hair after more than a year in North Africa. I wailed as I looked at its reflection in the mirror. Was it really gray or just blond? I yanked it out and gingerly carried it to my roommate. She inspected it too, pulling out her flashlight for better lighting.

There, in the glaring battery-powered light, we knew the truth. Grimacing, my roommate (only one year younger than I) looked up at me, “I’m sorry!”

I could have wallowed in despair. But I didn’t. For some reason it didn’t bother me as much as I was expecting.

Long, long ago—and I’m pretty sure I’m qualified to use this phrase now that I’m over 30—long, loooong ago, my older sister told me that she didn’t think there was any point in feeling old. “We’re never going to be any younger than we are right now.”

I’ve remembered that.

Why are we so afraid of age? Is it the aches and pains? The slowing metabolism? The realization that our bodies are “past their prime”? The imminence of the grave (even though “to die is gain”? Why do we focus on the negative aspects?

Long, long ago, an English professor told me that the best part about getting older is the accumulation of knowledge. I’m not sure I would agree that knowledge is the best part, but it’s a pretty hefty perk.

As we get older, we get to embrace adulthood, make our own decisions, continue maturing, grow in wisdom, and teach the younger generation.

In Arabic (at least in this North African dialect), the verbs “to grow old” and “to honor” are almost identical. In the culture, gray-haired people are respected because of their life experience and wisdom. For some reason, my one gray hair—or maybe five or six by now—doesn’t hold a lot of weight yet. Maybe in another ten years I will be ten years wiser, and ten years more worthy of respect.

Why am I blogging anyway?

My plan was to start a blog when I moved overseas. That way, my family and friends could tune in to my exotic adventures as I trotted the globe. But what am I waiting for? Every day holds an adventure. Sometimes it’s the little things, like talking to an immigrant in their own language. Or sometimes it’s the big things like answering the unsettling question “What should I do with my life?”

My family teases me about how often I ask that question. But is there only one best option? When I was 16, I knew that by 28, I would have the job I loved most in my heart of hearts. Looking back now, I smirk at my idealization of age. I’m 28 and the only clear direction I have is God’s call: “Glorify Me.”

But how? Through the last years, I’ve been down many paths, always with the dream of settling down and being fulfilled… like most people seem to do by my age. But what if “Glorify Me” were not a precise career plan, but a heart attitude?

What if our sense of fulfillment had everything to do with our heart attitude and little to do with our place in life? Wouldn’t we stop working so hard to make our surroundings perfect and learn how to praise no matter where we were? I’m rambling; if I had everything figured out, I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and imperfect now.

Guess what! God calls the imperfect! Think about it. Did God wait until Abraham was perfect before He called him “to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance”? If he had, Abraham never would have gone out, “not knowing where he was going,” an act of great faith (Heb. 11:8). What about Rebekah? She was called to be the wife of Isaac, but was she perfect? Was David? Esther? The disciples? Paul? Know this: God will not wait until you are perfect to call you. If you’re a perfectionist like me, that sounds catastrophic. We have great plans, but only after we have whittled ourselves away to the pulp of our own perfection. However, the point is not that we be perfect, but that we become a work-in-progress, a living sacrifice.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

(Rom. 12:1)

This is our calling.


Photo by Z on Unsplash