Last week, I crossed the line. I had a birthday that brought me closer to fifty than forty. It hurt. Literally. My back has been on its annual quest to remind me that I am at the effect of gravity and wear and tear. Despite physical therapy and a two-week break from anything that looks like exercise, I’ve been acutely aware of growing another year older.
I’ve always been a bit naive. I was twenty-five when I first understood that policemen were ordinary people and not superheroes of some kind. And I still thought I was twenty-five until my 41st birthday. I just did not think I was ever going to feel my age much less feel old! The last five years have changed that and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have not made the transition to acceptance just yet. Maybe it’s fair to say that I have not gotten to a consistent level of acceptance. Just when I think it’s no big deal, I am faced with a new reminder that pulls me off my game.
While watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button over the weekend, there was a word that rung in my ears so loudly that I can’t remember the sentence that it was embedded in. Impermanence. The words were uttered when Benjamin and the love of his life, Daisy, were at the physical age where they were compatible and together. The whole movie being about a man who started life with an old body, full of an old person’s ailments and aged backwards to an infant state at his death, was in essence about the impermanence of life.
The Buddhists focus on impermanence as a central teaching to reaching enlightenment. While in seminary, I heard no better example of this than a flower. We watch a miraculous flower bloom into its full glory only to see it wither and fade within a short period of time. We must enjoy it and revel in it and move on once it is gone. Buddhism states that all suffering stems from attachment and if we are to live in disappointment at the loss of ‘the flower’, we are attached to the past and no longer in the present.
So, if I get back to the present and not compare how my body feels and looks to how it felt and looked at any time in the past, I have to be grateful. It works pretty well. It looks pretty good. I have freedom of movement and independence and can still feel more than just pain. And if I’ve learned anything in the last few days since my birthday, it is to stop watching Hollywood awards shows. IF I don’t look at female celebrities that are my age in sausage-skin dresses, I won’t compare myself to what I could look like in some future that is not here yet. (deep, I know….)