Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Growing Old, Gaining Gold

I was sitting in a bathroom stall at a funeral home when it happened. With nothing better to do I happened to look down at my feet...and gasped in horror at what I saw! One foot sported a navy blue shoe, while the other was clearly wearing black,! And as if it wasn't bad enough that the colors didn't match, worse yet was the fact that one shoe was square-toed while the other was pointed! Perhaps the color mis-match could be blamed on aging eyesight and a dimly lit closet, but surely I should still be able to see well enough to discern shapes! Embarrassed beyond belief, I seriously considered abandoning my shoes altogether and returning to face the public in just my pantyhosed toes. With a birthday coming the next week I laughed at the thought that at least the digits in my age would match, even if the shoes on my feet did not.

I squirmed uneasily at the thought of other signs of advancing age. I recently acquired a magnifying mirror, as I thought it was important to at least be able to see my face before applying makeup to it. The idea was prompted by the sight of an elderly lady who came through my line in the grocery store, dressed to the hilt but with her lipstick everywhere on her face but on her mouth. Then my hairdresser told me about a client who came into her shop with a whisker on her chin seemingly inches long that everybody in the world could see but her. That day I decided to get the mirror...before my beautician has to ask if I want a haircut or a shave!

"Old" seems to have become an adjective to be avoided at all costs. I wonder if we're born with that idea or if it's programmed into our psyches by the beauty that's splashed on television screens, magazine covers and advertisements of all shapes and sizes. Youthful good looks, health and vitality reign supreme in our minds and hearts and we dread the onset of wrinkles, infirmity, loneliness and poverty that we so often associate with a person's latter years. We note that old is rightfully found in the word mold - a fuzzy green substance that grows on food that's been left too long in the fridge. To the young it describes a person who's been left too long on the planet. It's simply become a word we associate with something that needs to be thrown away.

And so, like the rest of the world, I do my best to keep up at least an appearance of youth, but there are days when there's no hiding the signs of advancing age. I'm reminded of it each time I mount the stairs leading up to the break room at work. Creaky knees and arthritic joints make this a much slower process than in days gone by. Sounding much like an old plow horse, I lift a leg and drop it to the step, lift the other and do the same, lift and drop, lift and drop, plop, plop, lift and drop...hauling myself up by the handrail as I go. Breathing heavily at the top I'm suddenly caught up in the whoosh of a teenager's flying ascent, and I sigh. My "old" is showing.

When family genetics made my hair go prematurely gray in my twenties, I was unprepared emotionally to be shoved to the back of the fridge, and so began a lifetime expenditure of time and money to keep my hair the color it was supposed to be. But sometimes on a blustery day the wind blows my carefully coiffed hair, lifting the curls to reveal a halo of white roots about my face. The look of surprise in the eyes of my companions brings another sigh. Again, my "old" is showing.

While technologically challenged in many respects, I pride myself on the fact that I do send text messages on my cell phone. Yet the teens in my life laugh at my lack of speed and the fact that I have to look at the keys as I push them (thankful that I can still see them), making it impossible for me to hide the forbidden activity from the prying eyes of teachers or work supervisors by texting on a phone that's hidden under a counter, behind a back, or in a pocket, as they do. Again, I sigh. My "old" is showing once more.

Somehow we miss the fact that old is also found in the word gold, a treasured substance, sought after for its great value and beauty. I'm reminded that longevity is likewise something we try to attain, as our endless diets, trips to the gym and visits to the doctors' offices attest. We all want to reach old age; we just don't want to look like we've arrived.

But I've noticed lately that my husband and I now answer each other's questions before they're even fully formed, and that a simple look between us communicates as much as a lengthy spoken conversation used to. Thirty years after our wedding my jewelry may look a little worn, but my marriage shines as brightly as my ring did the day it was first placed on my finger. I smile at the thought. My "gold" is showing.

Now that my children are all legal adults I marvel at how they've morphed from chubby toddlers making messes about the place into responsible young men about to make a mark on their world. As I watch their lives develop and listen to them make their plans I can't help but smile to myself. Again, my "gold" is showing.

Perhaps nothing in my life shows its age more than my Bible. I don't have to look at it too closely to realize anew that it's in pretty bad shape. The binding is torn and flaps loose, while the brown color of the cover is worn off in the spots where my fingers have gripped it tightly for so long. And yet as the physical appearance of the book has deteriorated, the spiritual life inside of me that it has nourished has flourished When I look at the joy in my heart and rejoice at my peace of mind, I smile. My "gold" is showing once more.

Perhaps the reason the proverbial pot of gold lies at the end of the rainbow is to remind us that there's treasure to be found at the downside of a lengthy but well-lived life. As we look at the steps we're taking today may we remember that form and speed are not nearly as important as that our feet walk a path that will lead us to the streets of gold that line our heavenly Home.

"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:20-21 NIV)

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