The Noble Task of Aging

When we LOL’s (Little Old Ladies) get together these days, we compare pains and humiliations and losses.  Not an uplifting experience, but misery does love company.  However, sometimes one of us finds some humor in our daily decay and once in a while, someone shares an experience of grace in the middle of disaster. And those who can, drive those that can’t to Doctors’ appointments and church and lunches out.  And those that cook use that talent when one of us isn’t able. Some faithfully call to check on the house-bound and others send cards so they will know they aren’t forgotten. We share pain relieving stick-ons and advice we’ve learned from experience.  Old age makes us a family, when we are loved by our children, but they can’t really understand from the inside out.  To me that’s part of our Noble Task.  In the following, Kathleen Dowling Singh writes about coming to grips with the losses and precariousness of old age.

A Noble Task

Known for her deep wisdom around death and dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh (1946–2017) also wrote about the awakening that can occur when we consciously address aging:

Opening deeply to the truth of our own aging is wise. Opening deeply to the truth of our own impermanence is wise. Although such opening may not come easily at first—we all know how the ego tends to resist vulnerability—it is important to do so if we wish to mindfully use the time remaining to us.

To live a life of an elder is to ripen into being that is more than simply elderly, more than just old. It involves ripening into clear-eyed acceptance of the way things actually exist. That ripening involves, for each of us, many difficult reckonings in the multifaceted, multidimensional understanding that everything that can be lost will be lost. . . .

Grey hair and sagginess notwithstanding, many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference.

We all have reservoirs of fear, some large and some small and subtle, around entering this new terrain of unknown and mystery: our last years. What will aging to do me? To my body? To my mind? . . . Will I matter to anyone? Will I be a burden? How will I die?

We do not know. We have no clue what these years will hold for us. We have no clue what will happen tomorrow. The “moment that changed everything” usually arrives unannounced.

The only person who can answer the questions posed by the often painful challenges of aging is the person we will be in the moment we confront those circumstances. The shaping of that person into someone with greater wisdom and equanimity can begin in this moment.

For Singh, when we choose to ripen, to awaken as we age, we offer a gift to the world and future generations:

If we are to claim the last years of life as years that hold the possibility of awakening into equanimity and lightness, into the very embodiment of grace, we need to bear witness to the ripening of that possibility. Not only would it be a blessing for each of us, it would be a blessing for a world starving for such witnessing. . . .

Mindful of impermanence, the breath-by-breath arising and abiding and falling of each moment, we can remain in remembrance of our longing to exist in wisdom and love and compassion. We can remain in our intention to ripen into the spiritual maturity that is our birthright to cultivate. There is no more noble way to spend these years than to become an elder, to bear witness to the world as placeholders for peace, love, wisdom, and fearlessness.

About Eileen

Mother of five, grandmother of nine, great-grandmother of five. 1955 -1959 Rice University in Houston, TX. Taught primary grades; Was Associate Post Director of Religious Education at Ft. Campbell, KY; Consultant on the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, Was married for 60 years to an Architect in Middle Tennessee.

Posted on September 21, 2022, in Death, Gifts of Age and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. berghane@optonline.net

    Thanks again for more wisdom. I just wish old age didn’t entail so much arthritis pain!

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  2. I am 88 and I live by myself in my own home. I have very bad eyesight, bad hearing, arthritis, and mobility problems. One day a week I get three hours home care.
    My three children help out, whenever I need some extra help. I read (mostly large print), I write blogs, and I socialise for a few hours about three times a week.
    I love to do my own cooking. I also love doing the dishes and a bit of sweeping. To keep things tidy enough, does not always come easy. But I try to keep myself busy. I have to do everything very slowly, and I have to watch my breathing.
    I like to have long showers, usually I sleep a bit during the day, and I sleep very well during the night. I like to get up very early in the morning. During the very early morning hours I seem to have the most energy.
    So far, I feel I can still live more or less independently. When stressed, I get very high blood pressure. But I never get stressed, when I am just by myself, which is of course most of the time.
    I am not afraid to die. I reckon, if I could die suddenly, and hopefully before I become too dependent, this would be a blessing.
    I love special family gatherings, when, for a few hours, I am being surrounded by my large extended family. Above all, I love to see all my great-
    grandchildren!
    I know, that I won’t be on this earth much longer. However, I think, I am blessed, to have had a very long and mostly good life, including a marriage of 64 years!
    Dear Eileen, I liked your comments on Cat’s page. You seem to be close to me in age, and you’re widowed because your husband died of cancer. My husband died of cancer too, and with every year I seem to miss him more.
    Cat has been my blogger friend for a long time.
    Sincerely, Uta Hannemann
    Wollongong, NSW, Australia

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