I am not the oldest person I know, but I am up there on the aging scale. There are many people who are younger than I am, and fewer who are older. Every day or year, the number of these ‘olders’ keeps getting smaller. The ‘youngers’ are those who can most likely count on decades of living before they get to what may be considered old age 

If you type “what is old” into the internet the number sixty-five keeps popping up. One site suggests that people start feeling old at around forty or forty-five. I am way older than any of these arbitrary numbers. In fact, I seem to be at the far end of old – in the old-old category. There are axioms out there aimed at – I’m not sure who – the already-old or the ones not wanting to face it. One is “Age is Just a Number.” This adage is flippant and it annoys me. Age is not just a number. It is a powerful clue about a significant life-stage where bodies, minds, and spirits are forced to confront challenges that were never there before. Making short-shrift of the number of years that someone has lived diminishes the reality of this circumstance. 

Because of my age, I can speak with some authority not only about my own aging, but also of others around me who are going through the same process of checking off the accumulating years. My experience has taught me that aging is enormously complex with both good and not so good pieces. When I greet my contemporaries and ask how they are there is always a mixed response. It goes something like – “I have some aches and pains but that’s better than the alternative (meaning death.)”

Yes, getting older can involve some incapacities and losses of all different sorts – spouses, friends, and relatives have died; not being able to drive; poor vision or hearing; needing to use a cane or a walker; or curtailing once-fulfilling activities. But it seems that mostly people want to keep going. Even with some decline, we prefer forward movement instead of stasis and mortality. Everyone must decide what this looks like for themselves and everyone is different. Each one of us must get up in the morning and, as one of my dear friends puts it, “Dwell in the sunshine today.” 

What a great image! What is that sunshine (whether or not the sun is actually shining)? Of course, that depends on the person. If I get the chance to chat a little more with people and, once they put aside their everyday grievances, they talk about seeing kids and grandkids, having lunch with friends, going to a movie or concert, involvement in the community, writing cards in support of political candidates, or volunteering at the library. All of these actions are meaningful and life-affirming: evidence of the desire to stay alive. 

Maintaining this momentum doesn’t happen automatically. For me, it has taken some effort to figure out what will motivate me each day – what is my “sunshine?” I like to think about this sunshine as purpose. After some health issues this past year I pushed myself to consider what my ongoing, sustaining objective was. I realized that it was something I have been doing for a very long time – reflecting and writing. I can’t explain why, but I am compelled to wonder about important issues that we all face sooner or later, and then share my thoughts to let people know they are not alone in getting through. I can’t and don’t want to come up with a perky saying that describes this process. I am put off by such superficiality. I guess that is the way I am built. I seem destined to ponder life’s importance. As I do this, I am driven by the need to honor and respect, and not trivialize our precious lifetimes, and celebrate each and every sunshiny day we have ahead.