Beliefnet
The Queen of My Self

By Sister Joan Chittister
From The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully

“I am luminous with age,” Meridel Le Sueur wrote. Her words give us pause, make us think, call us to the bar of judgment.

The truth is that older people tend to come in two flavors — the sour ones and the serene ones. The sour ones are angry at the world for dismissing them from the rank and file of those who run it and control it and own it and are not old in it. They demand that the rest of the world seek them out, pity them, take their orders, stay captive to their scowls.

The serene ones live with soft smiles on their aging faces, a welcome sign to the world of what it means to grow old gracefully. To have the grace of old age. They require us to go on growing more and more into ourselves as we age. It is of these that Meridel Le Sueur, an American author who lived to be 96, wrote, “I am luminous with age.” Luminous. Not painted. Not masked. Luminous!

There is an important part of the aging process that lies in simply getting accustomed to being older. Part of being a vigorous older person demands, first of all, that we learn to accept it for what it is, a new and wonderful — but different — stage of life. We must admit, even in our own minds, to being older in a culture that is so youth-oriented that age is something to be hidden rather than celebrated.

“Me?” we say. “Sixty? Impossible.” One can almost hear the tone of shame that goes with it. It burrows into the center of us and an alarm sounds in the heart. How could life be almost over, we worry, when were just beginning to understand it, to enjoy it, to love it. And with the fear of age, if we succumb to the notion that being older is some kind of obstacle to life, comes the loss of one of life’s most profound periods.

The problem is that preparation for aging in our modern world seems to be concentrated almost entirely on buying anti-wrinkle creams and joining a health club — when the truth is that what must be transformed now is not so much the way we look to other people, as it is the way we look at life. Age is the moment we come to terms with ourselves. We begin to find more strength in the spirit than in the flesh.

The way we view ourselves changes from period to period in life. It is not a steady-state experience, and its most impacting definition comes in middle age. Then, we all get some kind of power, however limited it may be, just by virtue of seniority, if nothing else. We find ourselves in charge somewhere: in charge of our children, in a position of control on the job, in a position of preferment in the family, at a higher social level in the group. We have arrived.

But all of a sudden it seems, as quietly as I arrived, I am now just as quietly dismissed. Power and control cannot be my definition of self anymore. I must now find in myself whatever it is that gives me a personal place in the world around me: I’m fun to be with; I care about other people; I have begun to live for deeper, richer, more important things than I have ever done before. I am caretaker, public watchdog, social advocate, companion now. Then, I begin to see myself differently. I begin to discover that, in many ways, I am far more important now than I have been all my previous life.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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