More Than a Number

Too much value, I think, is placed on youth.

Sure, it’s nice to have the body of a young person, the sharp mental faculties of a young person, and to have life stretching out before us like a young person. It’s nice to be able to make mistakes and have enough time left in life to correct them, or at least to mitigate the fallout.

As a wise man once said, “Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” Is that just something that old people say when their youth has passed them by, like “Fifty is the new thirty?” I think not, and I’ll tell you why.

Yes, having a nimble body free of aches and creaks and popping noises was nice, as I recall. I can remember playing tennis, walking for miles, jogging, playing basketball and softball, and not once did I ever have to rub oils or creams on my complaining joints. I lived in a no anti-inflammatory, no pain reliever world.

When I was in college, my friends and I would decide at midnight to drive to Atlanta (five hours from Nashville, mind you), then turn around the next day and drive back to school. All that nonsense was before I developed a caffeine habit, incidentally. Worries were few, my knees didn’t protest the stairs, and whatever mistakes I’d made up to that point didn’t have lifelong implications. The future, for a time, was Friday – nothing more, nothing less.

My aging cohorts and I have seen free love in the ‘60s (turns out, the treatment for that is NOT free), bell bottoms and bad hair in the ‘70s, great big hair and unbridled greed in the ‘80s, IPO bubbles popping in the ‘90s, economic dips and surges in the 2000s, and just recently, a global pandemic and political shenanigans the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Boston Tea Party.

My cohorts and I are still standing.

Forty or so years have passed since my glorious teen and college years; how can I say that those weren’t, in fact, the days? That’s easy. Today, I live a life rich with the currency of lessons learned. I have a husband and two children, and we have glorious grandchildren. We have dogs that we treat as though they’re our children (better, if you ask our kids). We have a good, warm, loving home. The future, and not Friday, is our retirement.

We take trips to the beach in winter, when just a handful of “snowbirds” are there. We cook together. We play Scrabble together. We often can’t hear each other, together.

Beyond all that I have just listed, we have something else that we share. We have the joy and knowledge that with our grandchildren, as in life, we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff – and most of it is small stuff. We sit with our grandbabies and read, or play, or just listen, the housework piling up and home projects left undone, because reading, playing, and listening are the big stuff. Sometimes, the true legacy is found in not doing anything except being present. In a world in which hundreds of bells, buzzers, beeps and other alarms scream for our attention, what they’ll remember after we’re gone is that they alone were our focus, nothing else.

When we’re young, everything is pressing, imminent, urgent. As we age, the only pressing matter is what’s happening in the the now, because we are the keepers of the solemn knowledge that nothing beyond that moment is promised.

So every now and then, I stock up on creams and gels for joint pain. I keep aspirin and other such remedies in the house, and not for post-sports relief, either. We use these things now for post-gardening relief, or post hide-and-seek relief, or we might just use them on rainy days.

But oh, the joy of pulling a toddler into your lap and engaging with her in her small, giant world is everything. Nurturing a seed to its maturity as a flower or a sun-warmed vegetable is everything. Watching a cloud pass over the sun and travel on its way to an unseen destination is, indeed, everything.

They are works of art.

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