My brother and I just spent a few days touring our parents through senior housing. At one point, he leaned in, and whispered, “Growing old is tough.” I agreed, though “tough” is probably too mild a word, the reality deserving something more visceral, definitely more chilling. As my parent’s generation enters what I would generalize as “old age,” they’re struggling with what seems an endless list of losses—family, friends, careers, driver’s licenses, vision, independence, stamina, health, dreams, and the myths about who they are.
I mention myths because so much of who we are is perception, our firmly-gripped beliefs about ourselves. One of the more painful losses, from my observations, is the loss of a sense of identity. Who are we when we’re no longer recognizable to ourselves, when the myths of our lives no longer apply?
Even on the upward arc of life, there are losses, many painful, some liberating, and most irreversible. Through loss, we gain maturity, a broader perspective, and deeper wisdom about life. If we are blessed, we parse the enduring from the ephemeral, the meaningful from the inconsequential, and end our days as a sojourner with an appreciation for the profound gift of this one delicate life.
As more losses loom in the nearing future of my life, I take stock of the person I am and peer into the future for a vision of the person I will become. Will loss peel away my identity? Will I mourn the fading myth of myself?
Not a chance. In that future I will revel in my art … my writing.
I remember the day I realized that writing could sustain me beyond the exuberance of youth into the foreign frontier of old age. It was a marvelously glorious day when I understood my myth wouldn’t go flat or seize up on the highway of life. I can write until I’m old and silver-haired, wrinkled and whiskered, complaining of warts and aching bones. I can write until I’m shrunken and bent, sagging and frizzy, home-bound and bed-bound. A lovely image, isn’t it?
Yes, I declare.
True beauty dwells in the soul. Imagination isn’t bound by age. The creative spirit that breathes life into art never grows old. As long as I can write, I will be me.