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Sharon Greenthal

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Aging as Youthfully as We Can

Posted: 09/18/2012 1:46 pm

One of the biggest problems with getting older is that everyone else is getting older too. Day to day, the aging process is slow and steady -- it comes in daily increments, little by little, so that we barely notice the changes until, of course, we do.

"Where did that wrinkle come from?" we wonder.

"When did that spot appear?" we think as we look at our hands, our faces, our necks.

"Who is that?" we think, looking at a picture of ourselves, taken when we weren't aware, weren't posed, eyes wide open, sitting up straight.

It can be startling to look at the faces of those closest to us, those we've known the longest, and realize that, yes -- they've gotten older, too. I see my grandfather alive in my uncle's face, my grandmother looking at me through my aunt's eyes. I see my late father vividly in nearly everything about my brother, and in my husband I see, more and more, the unmistakable quirky characteristics of his late father. There is no escaping the power of genetics, or the slow but steady changes aging brings to all of us.

Facebook has, for the most part, eliminated the sweet softening of memory and how it kept the long-lost friends of our youth from getting older, helping us to retain the image of ourselves as young, too. Now all of my friends are older, of course, and I am reminded of that whenever I log on to Facebook and see their lovely midlife faces passing by on my newsfeed. There are no young loves left to keep safe in a corner of your heart -- they've gotten older too. It's odd seeing someone you remember from high school for the first time on Facebook -- the years-long distortion of their features, the balding head, the change in hair color (guilty!), the sometimes unrecognizable plastic-surgeried face, with just a hint of who they used to be. It was because of this that Facebook was mesmerizing when I first began connecting with old friends. Perhaps most disconcerting was -- and still is -- seeing the children of old friends, often a rearranged version of their parents, a reminder of how young they (and I!) once were.

I think time travel is the most fascinating idea. What would happen if we could go back and watch our families form, grow and evolve? Imagine the experience of knowing your parents when they were just starting out together. What would it be like if I could have lunch with my grandmother, now 98 and in failing health, when she was a young mother of 30 years old? Who was she then? How different was she than at the age of 60? Or 90? As far as I can tell, she hasn't changed much at all. Does anyone become dramatically different over the years, or does the essence of who we are stay constant? I think so. For the most part, when I've reconnected with old friends after many years, there is still a part of them that I recognize and remember, something uniquely them that never changes. It is that part that makes me feel young when I reconnect to them -- the younger me seeking out the younger version of them. It can be exhiliarating.

Seeing the aging faces of my family can make me feel as though time is going too fast -- more so for those who I don't see often enough. I long to get back the days and years when we were separated for long stretches and have a few more times together during those child-raising years. As our lives grew more busy and complicated, as we moved to different corners of the country, it was difficult to see each other in person. Now, at midlife, we are more determined to stay connected and see each other as often as possible. It was easy when we were young to say "we'll do it next year." It's not so easy, nor is it a good idea to think that way now. Those little kids that kept us on the run not so long ago are grown-up people now. Those young parents running around -- well, we're not so young anymore. Except... when we're together, it's as if no time has passed at all. We are still young, together.

We all get older. We all age. And we all are reminded each day, when we look at the faces of those we love, that we are doing this aging thing alongside each other, holding each other up, keeping the youngest part of ourselves alive by remembering and by enjoying this moment -- aging together while keeping each other young.

 

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