My mum said today she thinks she’s getting grouchier as she’s getting older. It was a joke of course, but it got me thinking. Thinking about how warm and hopeful I am when I see an elderly person with a kind and sunny disposition. And how disheartened it makes me feel to encounter an senior who’s bitter and cold. I thought about a documentary I saw that said until the age of forty our appearance is determined mainly by genetics. After that, environmental factors, how much you smile, frown, or grimace, and your stress level affect your appearance much more. If you’re lucky enough to live that long, who you are starts to show on your face.
Now this isn’t about judging the people who I perceive as less friendly and open. I could have caught them on a bad day. They may have suffered in ways I can’t imagine. They may have found my behaviour unacceptable. There could be a million reasons.
Neither is this about applauding the more cheerful older folks for doing the “right” thing. They might well be naturally happier. I could have reminded them of a loved one. You never know.
But it makes me wonder what kind of old person I will be, or want to be. What qualities do I want to cultivate in this lifetime? To the extent that it is within my control, how do I want life to affect me in the long run?
I want to be kind. I want to connect to others. I want to be able to see the humanity in strangers, to offer up empathy freely and widely. If I’m good at that by the time I’m old, I’ll consider this a life well spent.
See the etched-in toes of sparrows and robins
at the edge of my eyes –
these are from the smiles I hand out
like hard candies, even to people who don’t want them.
See the caramel-coloured spots on the backs of my hands –
these are from every time I held them out in welcome,
brought someone into my home and my heart.
See the furrows that line my forehead
like the bends in a gnarled, climbing tree –
these are all the times I sat with someone in pain,
listened to their stories, humming with sympathy.
See the stoop in my stance, my spine
bent into a shepherd’s crook –
this was formed leaning into loved ones,
holding them close,
rubbing love in little circles on their backs.
My body is the memoir
that will speak my truth,
should you choose to read it.