Thursday, March 4, 2010

Birthdays and Aging and Thinking it Through

I don't like getting older. There. I said it. There are a million reason why it bothers me. The one that stands out most clearly for me is the fact that in my head, I am still 17.

When I was growing up, I remember my parents being this age. (You will note that I am omitting the number itself.) I remember that they were GROWN UPS. I remember that this number was... well... not young. But, when I wake up in the morning and the me in my head is still the same me that I knew when I was 17, it stuns me. How can I be this... well... not young?

For many years, Mark and I lived with college students. We LOVED that work and to be honest, living and working with 18-22 year olds has a way of keeping you young. You think about things things that are current and you are fully immersed in common culture. While we were there, we found ourselves up (very) late and laughing out-loud and loving the fast pace of college life.

When we left that job, we found ourselves surrounded by the very young. When we brought Elizabeth home from China, we had a 7 year old, a 6 year old, a 2 year old and a 1 year old. We were tired but very much felt like we were in the young-parent-kind-of stage. It was full and it was good and it felt like a time of beginnings.

But now? Now, I celebrate birthdays and am left with a strange feeling. It's not about wanting to stay young, you see. I don't fear aging and do not feel any pull to trying to pretend I am 25. The thing that throws me off is that, in my head, I am not this... well... not young. In my head, I am still 17. The voice that was me, the thoughts that were me, the ME that was me then is the me that stretches and yawns at the break of a new day now. I didn't know it would be that way. I think I always figured that the child you once were sort of faded away and you became an adult who was... hmmm... grown up? I guess I never thought that my parents and grandparents likely felt very much like I do now. Like the people that they were are still in there... but the number doesn't always match who they find themselves as today.

Mark once asked his dad about this and was told that even at 80+ years old, the man in his head was still a boy. Having heard this, we think of him differently now... with more respect, I hope. Because he carries with him a lifetime of experiences and the person he always was is in there, even within a body that has lived so long. The man who laughed out-loud and told interesting stories and felt passionately about God's kingdom here on earth is still that man.

And maybe it's good, this strange feeling I have. Maybe it's good to remember 17 so clearly today. Maybe, just maybe, there's a gift in that... not for me but for my kids. Because when I was 17, I felt misunderstood. And there was this boy. And I wondered about my place in the world. I was trying new things... good and bad. And I was learning to choose what in life should stay and what should go. I felt deeply and thought long and made mistakes and chose paths and all of it happened then. So, maybe the gift in keeping that me is that when my kids feel alone... I get it. And when they fall and when they love and when the here and now feels like the most important thing... I can understand. Because, when you are a child, the here and now IS the most important thing. And the child I was is still the girl I am. As momma to these four children, I want to remember it all and in doing so find ways to embrace their current experiences and not minimize one little part. Because the feelings I felt then were real. The experiences I had then were formative. And it mattered. Just like it does to my kids.

I had a birthday this week. And yes, I am older. But, the number doesn't matter at all. Because this me, at this age, is still just me. And inside this earthly shell I carry all of who I am and always have been. All those tiny pieces, all those memories have a point. To help me understand those I love the most. So, 17 or 43, it's all okay with me.

Blessings on your day.

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