The value and sadness of growing older: Both are deep, to the bone. The values are that you realize a few people will always care about you no matter the circumstances. You realize that you have learned a lot. You enjoy beauty and experiences more than things. You understand that your choices are your own and are less apologetic for them. You appreciate the need to help with the hardships of the elderly more. You cherish memories more. You learn that loyalty and love are the fuel of a happy life.
You realize the very people who will always care about you no matter what tend to be the ones you lose the earliest. There is something that is a lot like standing on a cliff or being trapped in a tight space in the moments you lose them. You know they will not and can not be replaced and a level of love and concern that is unique leaves you forever. It is a lonely feeling.
You know that the reason you’ve learned a lot is because you’ve made a lot of mistakes. You have encountered the wrong people in your life who have left painful lessons. It makes you know you will make more mistakes and be hurt badly again. It frustrates you to watch others make mistakes you can see coming by a mile, but you know they won’t listen to you if you advise them, because it’s part of their learning journey.
You enjoy beauty more, but develop an eye that sees the ugliness in how we as humans treat each other. You realize very few people in the world won’t use you up, thoughtlessly, with no concern that they withdrew more than they deposit. You know that experiences are how you build a life.
You become less insular and want to do everything and see everything, but realize you don’t have the resources for that and likely never will. You are less apologetic for your choices but realize that good, bad or indifferent, they will be dragged through every “well-meaning” persons conversations. You will be branded as odd or intolerant. If you have have strong opinions you will be pushy, dramatic, bossy. If you’re low key, you will be boring, unconcerned, and unfeeling. This is a no win situation.
You will appreciate the needs of the elderly more because you feel that icy wind, with its health problems, loneliness, and difficulties, breathing down your own neck. You will be scared of the real possibility that no one will be there for you when your time comes.
You cherish good memories more. It makes you smile to tell them again and again. But the flip side of memory is regret. You regret the career path you didn’t take, the family you didn’t produce, the times when you could have been kinder, the fiftieth anniversaries you’ll never have. And you learn that loyalty and love are the fuel of life, and you will mourn the broken loyalties. The friends that left in the middle of the path, often at your hardest times. Some you will miss forever.
You’ll learn that it is harder and harder to know who is on your team, no matter how close they seem. You’ll learn that love is a fleeting thing and that you can’t be in someone’s head to know the strength of that love or if they’re considering its end.
So, if only growing old were the aches and pains, the loss of physical attractiveness, we could all deal with it. But it’s so much more. It is an uncertainty that there are good endings, a lack of easy belief in goodness and people truly caring about you, and the regret for all those things, you can ever go back and do.
Emma Cox is a writer, blogger and teacher in the Claiborne County School System.