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Houses of Our Youth

The other day I caught a glimpse of myself as I passed the hallway mirror. I stopped and backed up a few steps for a longer gaze. What grabbed my attention was a flap of skin. I know I had seen it before, just under my chin and above my throat. But I’d also seen it on other older people. Or maybe it was lines on their faces. Two thoughts sprung to mind —

  1. I’m getting older and
  2. it doesn’t look all that bad.

Then I wondered, ‘how do I feel about that?’

And I thought about walking in the deep woods, hearing a growing loud roar, rounding a bend and coming face to face with a 100 ft. waterfall — spectacular, breathtaking and beautiful!

Or noticing a restored vintage automobile, perhaps a ’55 Chevy, driving smoothly down the street — sweet, special and beautiful!

Or going back to the house where you lived growing up — comforting, mixed emotions and beautiful!

The waterfall is there in front of you because of the steady erosion and disintegration of rock and earth by water — a crumbling and a deterioration. The crash of a meteor. A wild herd stampede over the edge. A homespot for a group of Neanderthal. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!

The car has some dents and a few scrapes and most certainly rust. Zero to sixty off a red light. Making out in the back seat. A realization of independence. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!

The house is smaller than you remember it, definitely worn and probably in need of a coat of paint. Safe sacred space? Smells that you can still taste. Adolescent insecurities. What unspoken and undiscovered experiences and treasures!

The painful losses and poignancy of aging are inevitable.

There is beauty and gallantry in aging.

So here’s my question: If we can see the beauty in waterfalls or in vintage cars or in the house of our childhood, why can’t we see the beauty and gallantry in older people or in ourselves as we age?

Why can’t we have our breath taken away by older people and appreciate the unspoken and undiscovered experiences of our elders? Why don’t we recognize the treasures of our elders, with all their crumblings and their deteriorations, their scrapes and rust, their smallness and wornness?

There are many answers to these questions. One is that for 200 years our culture trains and develops us to deny and fear aging and death. Another is that the view of older people has morphed into us being worn out machines, to be either fixed or warehoused. Another is that we ourselves have bought into this ‘bill of goods’ that old is bad or shameful, and that we’re doing something wrong just because we are living.

Inevitably, we are the worn houses of our youth! For that I am proud, humbled and enlivened.

It is important to keep on asking and to keep on challenging why it is that we can’t see the beauty and treasure in our elders, and in ourselves, like we can see in the deteriorating waterfalls, rusted cars or the worn houses of our youth.


laughing man

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