Whatever we believe to be our gifts of age, it seems impossible to conclude anything but that they derive from experience. This is true not only for the gifts mentioned in Part I -- freedom from making judgments, inner confidence, acceptance and fruition -- but for so many others unmentioned so far, such as wisdom, peace of mind, continued commitment to a purpose, or enjoying the fruits of former accomplishments. It also seems impossible to conclude that these gifts are given to all. There are many who have them in great measure, and who revel in them and use them wisely, but there are also many cranky and unhappy old men and women who seem not to have them at all. If the gifts are truly gifts of age, then it is probably more accurate to say, rather than that the gifts are not given to all, that all are not able to receive them.
Dan wrote, “Acceptance is not a perfect word. It does not fully convey the sense of flow, fulfillment and peace of mind that I associate with it. It doesn't fully express the sense of grace. But I like it because what I hear in it is not the part of accept that means endure but the part that means receive. As in receive a gift. If I've learned anything, it is how to receive. It was a friend, a psychic, who first told me--as I was waiting for insight at the bottom of my lonely pit--that I needed to open myself and learn to receive (was it this that changed the pit to a well?).”
"You are trying to do everything on your own," she told Dan. "You don't trust the universe and you don't see that the physical reality of your circumstances, the physical world itself, is thin as tissue paper." She related the story of a man and his wife, clients of hers. The man was washing the dishes one evening when he heard a ker-plop into the soapy water of a bowl in the sink. Reaching in, he pulled out a ring. He had never seen the ring before. He took it to his wife who exclaimed, “Where on earth did you find that? I haven't seen that ring in twenty years!” Dan’s psychic friend explained that it had just come through in order to help the woman deal with what it symbolized to her, some unfinished business from the past.
“I'm sure I privately scoffed at the story,” Dan wrote, “Yet I would say this has turned out to be what has happened to me, too. Something, a coin, a ring, has come through that tissue paper thin wall of time and space. Its gradual recognition has had a miraculous effect. I do a better job of receiving myself just as I am and receiving others just as they are. I'm more open. The wars between me and me have diminished over time, replaced by an inner connection to the flow. I know I've embraced something - or it has embraced me.”
Becoming more open to receiving what is available to us, rather than struggling along possessed by the desire to have things our own way, appears to be a pre-requisite for acquiring the gifts of age. And Deb pointed to a few other prerequisites when she wrote, “Age brings wisdom, a commonly held belief. Although wisdom is not confined to older folks, wisdom can manifest new strains, or gifts, as we age, if we remain aware, open, and reflective.”
Aldous Huxley summed it up this way, "Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him." It is what we do with our experience that determines whether or not we are capable of receiving the gifts of age, and approaching our experience with awareness, openness, and a habit of reflection appears to be prerequisite.
Deb experiences a bittersweet quality to realizing it has taken her fifty-seven years to arrive at her inner confidence. “But some things just can’t be rushed,” she wrote, “Like the silky taste of an aged Cabernet, or the patina on a piece of old bronze.”
She confesses, “Over the past two years I have been envious of women with silver hair. Not gray hair, or white hair, but silver hair. It happened again a few weeks ago while out hiking to a waterfall. I saw a vibrant looking woman in her forties with beautiful silver hair. Contrary to our youth-driven culture, she did not look old in her silver locks.” Deb will turn sixty in 2011. “That’s my target date to have grown out my roots and become dazzingly silver-haired, whether it be au natural, or with the help of my hairdresser.”
This September, Dan, at fifty-nine, will marry “a fabulous woman and soul-mate.” He explained, “We met on eHarmony a few years ago. I haven't been married in a decade and that will complete a cycle of some kind. I feel I am coming home, maybe for the first time. Indeed, what a lesson, learning to receive, and a ring it is that shows up. Who on earth would have guessed?”
I am the oldest of our troika. I have eight years on Deb, seven on Dan. Unlike Deb, I’ve been bald for a long time and don’t care at all about what hair I do have. Like Deb, judgmentalism feels less satisfying to me, and I no longer care much about proving something to others. Unlike Dan, I would probably not have scoffed at the psychic’s story about the ring. Like Dan, I have had to learn how to receive and was remarried at about the same age that he is now.
I can say from my “elder” position to both of them (and perhaps to you) that if you remain aware, open, reflective, and receptive, the gifts of age will keep getting better, at least for the next seven or eight years, which is all that I can speak to.
[Photo Credits: ring - "JK;"Iris - Dan Oestreich]