A decade ago, when a parishioner asked if I had any good books on aging, I replied with confidence, “Yes, I’ll bring some from home.” When I searched for resources, I was surprised to find that I had purchased many good resources on aging at least ten years earlier. I had bought them when it felt safe to buy them—meaning: “Oh, these are interesting writings on aging. I am glad to have them for reference, but personally I don’t need them now—I won’t be an older person for along time.” Well, that long time happened while I wasn’t paying attention! It was a jolting epiphany to reread them and reflect on being age sixty-seven. I had a fresh and unexpected understanding about my human lifespan.
Until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to my age as I moved into higher decades. I was busy doing other things. Then, for the first time, I had to honestly acknowledge my personal accumulation of years lived on this planet, and I didn’t particularly like it. I didn’t feel old, but maybe my calendar age was. The status of being an elder was not appealing because our society has a negative outlook on being older. Folks in their senior years are not considered important resources despite their earned treasure of wisdom. So, of course I didn’t want to think about my growing older. I had thought of myself as middle-aged, living a very busy, multitasking life. I began to realize that somewhere, sometime along the way I had morphed into that next developmental stage called “older person.” For the first time, up close and personal, I realized that I am living at the further end of my lifespan.
Whatever your life circumstances, be aware that elder years are spiritually creative and wait for you as a gift. In talking with other elders I’ve learned to keep the door open to life’s possibilities. Even one’s limitations invite exploration and invention. So, forgive the old hurts and let go of grudges and feelings of guilt after you have done what you can to make amends. They are too heavy to carry. Elder years can be an enriched time of personal reflection and perhaps an opportunity to mentor someone younger.
If you are retired, stay tuned for your further development. I invite you to walk with me for a while and use your own personal hindsight, humor, and hope.
Almost a decade ago I found that personally taking hold of my life experience was a creative challenge. It led to the development of the Hindsight, Humor, and Hope program. With deep appreciation I acknowledge the congregations that graciously welcomed me to lead workshops: First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Framingham, MA (two times); the UU Congregational Society of Westborough, MA; the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson, MA; First Parish in Dedham, MA; and First Parish Church in Beverly, MA. As proof of the expanding average lifespan of humans, the lowest age for the workshop has now moved from 50 to 55. I have always had someone representing the ninth decade of life in the workshops as well. What warm and caring interactions transpire when a multiage group comes together to grow!
I am grateful to Gail Forsyth-Vail, my editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association Faith Development Office, for her interest and thoughtful critiques, and to my colleague, the Reverend Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson, for his encouragement to give this workshop its wings. To my family, now three generations of adults, thank you for being you and for your love and interaction.
By Karin Peterson, June 2015