“Do you think we still live in a youth-worshipping culture?” was the question I asked of my husband the other night. His reply was, “Definitely.” I have to admit I was a little disappointed when his response didn’t line up with my own recent observations and conclusions. Then again, perhaps my eyesight is failing? Or maybe my thoughts are more of a reflection of how, and with whom, I spend my time? At any rate, there’s no denying that older people make up a solid portion of the U.S. It will be interesting with the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census to get updated stats, but in 2018 one study (Statista.com) put the number of people ages 45 through 64, at 83.9 million. This age group, landing squarely in mid-life, comprised just over a quarter of the U.S. population!
I find it captivating how our view of “old,” changes as we age ourselves. It’s all in our perspective, our view from where we stand on the timeline of life. Here’s an example: when I was a little girl, my teenage sister’s friends seemed like full-fledged adults to me. Nowadays at lunchtime when I drive by a local high school and see flocks of students walking to the nearest food-shack, they appear to be almost as children, to me. Since entering mid-life, I see this phase (mid-life) in a completely different way, as well. And more recently, thanks to a vocation which has brought me multiple opportunities to work with the mid-life population, I have a growing depth of appreciation for this group. They come pouring in through our doors, looking for new career opportunities, indeed, new life opportunities. Sometimes they are seeking to catch up to a culture they feel passed them by on the highway of life. I’ve come to love the faces of these mid-lifers; each one representing a story, unique and beautiful in its own right. And I more fully appreciate one thing… that the lines on mid-life faces and the graying hairs which grace their heads, are simply an outer covering behind which lie treasures known as “life experiences.” The experiences, and roads travelled, are as infinitely wide and varied as the people themselves. It never fails - just when I think I’ve found the one person who has led a relatively bump-free life, there will be more conversations, then the outer layers come off, revealing their deeper, unique story. The challenges in the story are always, always there.
When we are young, the “fabric” of our life experiences may appear as an unremarkable, one-color piece of cloth. As we grow our own unique life-story and the accompanying experiences, we are gaining, as I see it, our own special and interesting tapestry which has now become the fabric of our life.
Consider the words of one of my favorite poems, “Along the Road,” by Robert Browning Hamilton:
“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.”
Oh, yes. Sorrow, physical afflictions, love gone wrong, betrayals we thought would never happen. Broken hearts, disappointments, unexpected loss, impossible people. These things may show up in our lives as what we call “baggage,” but make no mistake - having come through them contributes to our own unique and beautiful tapestry, which is one of rich colors and textures. And just as surely as you’ll see the trials in your tapestry, you will find threads of wisdom, resilience and empathy woven in there, too.
So, remember, the next time you look in the mirror and aren’t exactly thrilled with that changing face looking back - smile a crinkly smile at yourself, then look a little deeper. Behind those lines on that reflection in the mirror, if you choose to see it, is your own beautiful tapestry.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.