Growing old with peace

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The elderly lady was perched high in the stylist’s chair. A large mirror echoed back to her that day’s trim and curl on her thinning white hair.
Pretending to be absorbed in a worn copy of a beauty shop gossip magazine, I listened in as, in a booming voice, which probably indicated hearing loss, the woman discussed her next appointment to get her haired “permed.”

I winced. What would all those chemicals do to that disappearing head of hair?

But the stylist had added volume and a little curl to her diminished locks, and the lady left smiling and happy.

Lately, I’ve been spending more time with older people and thinking more about aging. In part, that’s because I have a fall birthday, which seems to come around with increasing speed each year. One thing I notice is a lot of smiling, happy older people, folks who seem to have arrived at peace in their lives.

What’s their secret?

By a quirk of fate, I now get my hair cut in a facility that houses independent and assisted living for the elderly. My regular stylist at my salon bid on and was awarded the job of operating a salon in this facility. She was told she could invite some of her long-time clients to continue with her.

So, here I am. It helps that an elderly friend from my old hometown lives in the independent wing of this facility. She’ll be 102 years old this December, and she’s still in a beautiful apartment with her own full kitchen. Even with my approaching birthday, she makes me feel downright young, and I love to visit with her.

We go way back, as the saying goes. My father was the best man at her wedding. So there’s no end of history I can glean from her, and together we keep up to date on current events in our mutual hometown. I admire her cheerfulness, her delight in her great-grandchildren, her optimism about life.

She never misses the Lutheran services they offer at her facility on Thursday, and she always enjoys a glass of wine at the Friday afternoon social hour.

At another assisted living facility, I conduct a Communion rite on First Fridays as part of a parish ministry. There aren’t enough priests to say Mass as often as needed, but having an extraordinary minister come and bring the Eucharist is a blessing, both to the residents and me.

My little “congregation” is a group of regulars, and I’ve gotten to know them over the last couple of years. We’ve shared stories about our children, and I’ve learned whose daughter picks her up for swimming, who’s having memory concerns, who has lost a son. We’ve become friends.

In our society today, ageism is one of the last socially accepted prejudices. If you doubt that, ask any of your friends who are job-hunting in their sixties. Yet, there’s a wonderful sense of satisfaction many people feel as they age.

Their optimism, their resilience inspire me. I think it’s a sense of peace, of faith, of contentment with being at an age when you don’t need to impress anybody anymore. Plus, the really happy ones seem committed to community life. Continuing to care about your appearance, an interest in the world, participation in social events and regular attendance at religious services seem conducive to a happy senior life.

So, keep your dancing shoes handy, remember to thank God for your life every morning, and never say no to happy hour, even if you’re going on 102.


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