Revulsion flowed through me as I looked in the full length mirror. Could this really be me - breasts no longer firm and trim, a small pouch for a tummy? My hair, once thick and wavy, was now thin and lifeless. The harsh light was not kind. It highlighted the brown spot on my cheek and the beginning of a turkey gobbler neck. As I turned from the vanity to dry my hands, I was struck by their protruding blue veins and the crinkled winkles above my wrists. I intentionally avoided looking at the loose skin on my upper arms and the broken blood vessel in my lower right leg - a thin, curling blue line. How repulsive!
When did all of this happen? Even though I had tried to stay in shape - overwork, eating on the run, and hours a day spent at my desk – the body that wore a size 8 on my wedding day now carried an extra 20 pounds. The signs of aging could not be denied. At age 75, I looked exactly like my mother had, and how well I remember thinking her sagging body looked disgusting. I was determined to never look like that. But now, I was her mirror image.
Although my mom never went to a gym, her energy had always been limitless. She could run circles around me when I was 20. When we went shopping, I had to run to keep up with her. But as the years crept by, I saw her walk slowing, and then become increasingly unsteady. It was not very attractive. I would hear her utter a soft grunt when she got up from a chair. It was so unbecoming, I would think. I will never be that undignified.
When she couldn’t think of the word she wanted, misplaced her keys, or complained about the hours spent rummaging through the house looking for some lost item, my critical thoughts wondered why she couldn't stay more focused,as I begrudgingly tried to help her. When she became increasingly out of touch and could not understand modern technology, was unfamiliar with a VCR and could not remember how to program it, I vowed I would never let the world pass me by. It was disgusting to see her sitting unengaged in conversations that drifted toward subjects unfamiliar to her. It angered me to see someone who had always had an excellent mind appear so dull.
I disliked these signs of aging. Certainly she could do a better job staying fit and keeping up to date with the times. I resented what I saw happening. It was easy to find fault. Although I am sure I kept my thoughts to myself, nevertheless they were there. I know now how lacking in compassion I must have been.
I turned from the mirror and slipped into comfortable slacks with an elastic waistband. I pulled on a long sleeved top to hide my unattractive arms. As I lowered myself slowly to the shower bench, I was forced to admit that the aging process had definitely caught up with me. I was depressed over the bleak picture. My looks were gone. My health had deteriorated. My mind was certainly not as sharp as it once was. My spouse of almost 50 years had died. I did not understand the younger generation’s conversations. My grandchildren lost me with their technical gadgets. I even sensed my daughters questioning the decisions I made. And just this weekend my granddaughter was telling me how much better I would adjust to a retirement community if I made the decision to move before it had to be made for me. I felt alone in a changing world. How much longer could I hold on to my independence?
This new stage of life saddened me. When I was with my senior citizen friends, they commiserated and understood. They had the same problems and health issues. But unfortunately, our times togethes frequently turned into complaint sessions. It was comforting to know I was not alone in feeling adrift, but I did not want to become a winner or a cynic. Waves of anger and frustration assaulted me, but I knew bitterness, while an option, was not the answer.
I needed something to hold on to, to give me encouragement, and to relieve my fear of the future. Where was the God I had always trusted? What purpose did he have for the winter years of my life? I felt like I had so little to contribute? As I bent to tie my sensible shoes, the words of our wheelchair bound president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to my mind. “All we have to fear is fear itself.”
Painfully I got up from the bench and started for the steps, rubbing the ever present ache in my back. How nice it would be to run up and down steps again! I went into the kitchen and took a tea bag out of the jar, dropped it into my cup, and popped it in the microwave. In several minutes I carried the warm tea into my den and sat down in my favorite chair by the window. My calico cat jumped up on the sill and arched her back.
I thought again of my mother and wished that she were here. Why had my thoughts been so critical of her aging body and mind? Had I actually been foolish enough to believe that old age would never happen to me, that I could somehow beat these winter years of life? I wished, O how I wished, that I could talk to my mother again. What words of comfort would she, who so seldom complained, have to share? But most of all, I wanted the chance to show her the kindness and empathy that only comes from walking the same path she tread.
Winter’s bare trees were silhouetted against a pink tinted sky, and a recent snow fall covered the ground. The beautiful scene God had painted was comforting. I leaned back in my recliner. Was God trying to get my attention? Regardless of the breakdown of the body, a brain that was no longer as sharp as I would wish, and a world that was often puzzling, I was not alone. The words of a familiar song, which I could not immediately identify, drifted through my mind.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
(I COME TO THE GARDEN ALONE, by C. Austin Miles, 1913)
God was there, and God has promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me. What may seem impossible for man to endure, with God is possible. It is a new stage of life. Yes, there are losses and regrets. But there is also joy – the joy of uninterrupted quiet and peace, the joy of a family I love, the joy of friends to call when I get tired of my own company. I have a choice. I can grow old wallowing in self-pity, grieving over what I have lost,or I can accept that life is what it is and appreciate anew the meaning of an old truth. "It is not how you look or how you walk that counts. It is who you are walking with."
God has always walked with me, and God has never failed me, even when I have failed him. So if I open my mind to God, ideas will flow in, ideas that God is giving me to get me through the tough times. There is no substitute for a deep and abiding faith. If I can hold on to that, I will be ok, in spite of limitations and the changing times.
God has a plan for each of us, and that includes a plan for the last years of life. He knows what I do not know, but I do know that he is holding my hand.