Growing up, my grandparents hosted birthday parties that involved all of my dad’s aunts and uncles gathering around the kitchen table with a deck of pinochle cards dealt among them. After a few games, a “lunch” of sandwiches, cake, and hot cups of coffee would be served.
I remember looking at the people gathered around that table—wrinkled fingers raking in cards, deep, scratchy voices calling out bids and naming trump, laughter mingled with German words I didn’t understand. The kids were never invited to the table, only allowed to watch from the outskirts.
We were too young. And they were too old.
Old—not in a disrespectful, rude kind of way. But old, as in from my child-sized eyes, I could see these people had experienced much of their lives already. That they were closer to the end of their stories than to the beginning.
Today, I look across the table at my own parents—now the same ages as those gathered around that table so long ago—and they don’t seem as old as the grandparents or great-aunts and uncles from my memories. Maybe it’s because I’m closer to those ages than to the years of my youth when the memories were formed . . .
But the older I get, the less old “old” seems.
I’m just shy of 40, but I watch my oldest back out of the driveway and it doesn’t feel like that long ago when I was navigating a similar path. I remember feeling brave and grown up behind the wheel of that maroon Chevy Astro minivan, like somehow the license that gave me permission to drive it catapulted me into adulthood. It seems like not that long ago I was saying goodbye to my grandma, who I worked with at a local restaurant, then calling her to let her know I had made it home safely. A lot like my daughter texts me “Headed home” when she leaves her after-school job.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago . . . until the year in today’s date reminds me it’s been over 20 years since I was actually in her shoes—or rather, her driver’s seat.
I know I’m not a young mom anymore, and yet I don’t feel old either—at least not in the way I used to view old.
I guess the older I get, the more I realize the image of old is changing. The picture of old is morphing from that of wrinkled hands and soft skin that sags from the cheekbones into eyes that hold wisdom, a heart that holds genuine love, hands that reach out with sincerity, and a smile that reflects years of fond memories. Old isn’t about physical appearance or limitations anymore, it’s about a shift in perspective.
Old remembers the good old days and simpler times even as it is thrust into change and embraces it.
Old reflects on experience and places value on time and people over hustle and bustle and the gathering of all the things.
Old appreciates a slower pace and develops a peace in the slowing down.
Old has a better understanding of what’s important in life and makes decisions accordingly.
Old holds wisdom that’s hard to find in the years of youth because life has not yet taught its most valuable lessons.
Maybe it’s not that old seems less old now. Maybe it’s that I’m finally learning what it really means to grow old.
And truly, it’s one of the most beautiful transformations. I’m beginning to understand that the end of our stories might actually be filled with the very best chapters.