How do you age?


I know this sounds a bit  barmy but I think ageing has little to do with age. When you look in the mirror, who are you expecting to see? A child, a teenager, a young person making your way in the world? In other words, how old are you on the inside? I know children who are older than me. I once said to an eight year old, “Do you think trees can talk?” He regarded me with disdain , and replied, “I don’t think that’s a sensible question, do you Mrs Jenkins?” My lips twitched. Eight on the outside, fifty-eight inside. Actually I was reading an article recently,  documenting some research from Canada which shows that trees do communicate. So there you go, now-not-so-young William Double-Barrelled-Surname! Hope you are reading this…

I am finding the whole process of ageing faintly terrifying but also interesting. Some people give you the impression of eternal youth, not by the way they look, but by the way they laugh or hug trees or twinkle at you. Others are earth-wise and sceptical at the age of six. Is age a personality-thing as well as a years-thing? How to embrace the inside-age when it’s at odds with the outside one? Is ‘growing old gracefully’ even worth doing?

When I look in the mirror, I obviously don’t expect to see this: –wp-1469377186241.jpg

Or this: –wp-1471625046490.jpg

Or this: –wp-1469377242783.jpg

But I do expect to see something like this: –wp-1469377261705.jpg

What I actually see is this: –wp-1469392036387.jpg

And that’s on a good day. It’s usually more like this :-

wp-1471622456194.jpg

Who is this version of me? She has my mother’s eyes, my father’s smile and hands like my grandmother. She uses an electric toothbrush, and wears sensible shoes. She no longer has much interest in partying  or shopping. She says to herself, like a character in a Barbara Pym novel, “The old blue velvet will have to do.” Except for old blue velvet, read ‘print frock with red wine on hem’. A Friday night treat is a book and a glass of Chardonnay. She reads obituaries. And yet…and yet. She spends all day with children. Many of her friends are younger than her. She still laughs at pooh and wee jokes.  People who take themselves too seriously bore her. She sniffs books. No, she inhales them…this explains why her nostrils are so large.
When I’m in someone else’s classroom and the teacher roars, “SIT DOWN!” to this day, I’m scrambling for a chair before a last-minute recovery and a self-conscious , “Ahem…yes! Sit down!” to the children in the room. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years but Miss Ainscoe with her mean little eyes and roary voice “Deborah! SIT DOWN!” is forever etched on my eight year old inside self. While my fifty-something outside self tries to remember that the things I say and the atmosphere I create in my classroom can, for some children, last a lifetime.

Does life, or our response to it, age us? I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I know people who have lived through unimaginable tragedy or cruelty at the hands of others and still have a hopeful, trusting view of things. They have not soured, they do not hate. They are ageing well. wp-1469387964249.jpg

Hopefully you and I will be a bit like our garden gate – a bit battered, a bit lurching but still standing, still hopeful we can offer something unique to the world.  And in our own way, perhaps, still beautiful (on a good day).

Forgive me if this post is a bit odd. It’s just that I want to explore the ageing thing, but no one will talk about it! (Is this the new taboo?) My mates say, ‘Stop it! You’ve nothing to moan about.’ Older friends say ‘Oh for goodness sake – just you wait!’ As for the young ones, they mumble things like, ‘You still  look great!’ while glancing with thinly disguised horror at my bat – wing arms. But this all misses the point. It’s not how others see you. It’s how you see yourself. And how you come to terms with the growing chasm between your inside and outside self.

So please tell me, how do you age?

Postscript – There are some insightful comments from readers below.  Please do read, and add your own thoughts if you wish. And thank you 🙂

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11 thoughts on “How do you age?

  1. One way I manage the age thing is by going to see my 94 year old granny week after week in the care home. She makes me feel young, relatively flexible in body, and guilty for not making the most of life. I see her fellow residents not being able to tell the difference between a pear and an apple, or having stains down their cardigans they don’t know about, or needing directions to the room they sleep in night after night after night, or saying, ‘Ooh, that day dragged on, my dear.’ The other way I manage is to look in the mirror without my glasses on. That helps, too.

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    • Those all sound like very good strategies 🙂 Particularly the no- glasses one. I can also see that comparing oneself with much older people would work for a while. But what happens when you are that much older person? (Perhaps you ll be too far gone to care…)

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  2. I do not age consistently. In some situations, I feel mature, confident, experienced. In others I’m uncertain and even fearful, out of my depth and not far on from my teen-age self. And increasingly, there are things that make me think ‘I can’t manage that / can’t be bothered with that anymore’.

    My body, of course, keeps on deteriorating, regardless of how I feel on the outside. Since I’ve looked old for years, this isn’t too noticeable on the outside, but I’m starting to feel it. Not a big deal, it’ll keep going a bit longer (I hope!).

    But whatever age I feel like I am, it’s good to remember that I’m a child of God, with all that that implies. That’s a big subject, though, better to leave it for another blog!

    Thanks for the thoughts and the thought provoking words, Deborah.

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    • That chimes with what I’ve read from my psychology days – that we all have within us the role of child, teen, parent. leader, team member etc and that different situations can trigger those different aspects of us. I also think that one can spend years masking our basic personalities but as we get older, we just think, Oh what the heck! and revert to type. Yes, the child of God thing is such a comfort, Thanks Paul 🙂

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  3. I don’t. I’m still me, always was and always will be. I think Debbie, you are talking more about the physical side of ageing, and I think the younger you stay within, or the same closest to source from birth (our truest selves/our essence) then the less aged you will look. Obviously good food and exercise will help, but the most healing and helpful is love, love of yourself and all around you. I think you have these which explains why you have barely aged. Really, you are still very beautiful, and \I am convinced that comes from the inner beauty you have.
    So enjoy, because I think it comes with very many benefits.

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    • That is lovely of you. Thank you. It’s just a bit strange when people treat you as if you are older – offer you a seat on a bus/panic when you stand on a table to put up something at school – but you don’t feel it. I love the fact that you say you don’t age. If ageing is not, as we’ve said, how others treat you but the way you see yourself, then that is brilliant. And something to learn from…xx

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  4. I so understand what you mean about the view in the mirror not matching the selfie I have in my head. I’m always shocked by photos of me – who is that woman?
    I’m trying to see ageing in terms of seasons. I’m about to start a new ’empty nest’ season and, whilst I know and probably need to mourn the passing of the ‘parent of children’ (as opposed to ‘parent of adults’) stage, I can’t help feel a little excited too about the potential opportunities this new season will bring.
    Perhaps that’s the secret of good ageing? Embracing the season we are in with grace. I guess it takes practise and then, just as we get the hang of it, we move into a new stage.
    I’m going to try the no glasses trick though in the meantime!

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    • Haha! Yes, me too 🙂 We have been in the empty nest season for a year now, and although I was very apprehensive there have been unseen gains – more time to write and spend with hubby/friends and the new, fun relationships with my kids and my daughter-in-law . But when I look at old photos, like when the kids were little, I do feel this sense of loss. But every season is a combination of gains and losses so maybe I’m normal after all (don’t hold your breath on that one!) Thanks a lot for reading and commenting, Princess 🙂

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  5. Well now that I let off steam about aging, I will comment on your post. I love the last paragraph. I am searching books in reference to dying well. No I am not morbid nor do I think I am dying, anymore than the next person. But what does dying well mean? I have hear it several times and do not really now what they mean. I do understand finishing the race and doing that well, but this other one has me pondering.

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    • I found your comments really moving Visne, and I will pray that your health improves and you get back the quality of life you long for. I know many people in their 70s who are, of course, slowing down but still have a happy and fulfilled life and I’m sure that’s possible for you too. Regarding the dying well thing – I suppose for me that would mean: putting things right with anyone I’ve fallen out with, working through regrets to find peace, not being afraid. There are books written about it which you may be able to find on amazon though I don’t know anything about them. However, I am reading a book that I think you would find interesting. It’s by an ex-broadcaster and journalist, now in his 80s who is also a believer, called David Winter.It’s called At the End of the Day – enjoying life in the departure lounge (!) published by The Bible Reading Fellowship. It’s written very candidly with honesty and humour and I think you would like it. I’m not sure if you will be able to find it in the USA, but have a look and if not, let me know and I’ll buy it and send it to you.Lots of love and prayers to you, dear Friend xx

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      • Dear Debbie this is October and I’m just seeing your reply . I am so sorry I had not responded sooner . I have run across several books and I’ve got one I have not read it yet so I wonder if mine is interested as I think I am . The one you mentioned sounds very interesting I will try to get it here and if not will let you know . I do enjoy reading your articles messages blogs whatever we call them I find that very odd interesting and worth pondering . I’m not a writer and yet I really appreciate riders especially those that offer things that are worth pondering I like thinking . I will let you know if I can find the book love you .

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