“Please keep the noise down,” I said to the lad who was shouting over at his friend. “I’d like to keep my hearing into old age.” “You’re not old!”, the thirteen year old boy said emphatically to me. “Not yet,” I replied “But I am getting older and I’m OK with that. I’d like to be an old lady one day.” He looked me in disbelief, “Urgh, I never ever want to be old,” he said and shuddered.
Our conversation left a bitter-sweet smile on my face. Only that morning I had been contemplating, while walking down a quiet avenue. The colour of the autumn leaves had taken my breath away filling me with joy. Gold, emerald, copper, chestnut brown, vermillion; it was as if nature, before going to sleep was putting on her best fireworks display. I had recently had my fortieth birthday and the autumn leaves made me think of the seasons of our lives. I’m still in summer but I see and feel glimpses of autumn; a grey hair here and there being the most obvious outward sign that it’s just around the corner.
Walking through the trees, and hearing what the boy said, had made me reflect on how much our modern society values youth. We spend money on trying to look young; companies prefer to hire younger people; only the most successful actors continue their careers past my age. Yet look at the seasons, autumn is so very beautiful. The colours, the harvest, the bounty; all the efforts of spring and summer have produced this spectacular abundance, a feast for the eyes, the body and soul. Are our lives not like this? Does our experience, our learning; the seeds that we have sown not yield the most wonderful harvest? Is not the simple fact that we exist in itself not wondrous? Instead of celebrating this beautiful season we enter, why hide it, why shy away from it?
That same day, I mentioned getting older to a friend of mine who said, “But it’s just awful, it’s all about letting go of everything you had.” Well, certainly it means letting go of some things, yet also gaining others. As I grow older, I let go of things that were so important to me when I was younger and develop new interests. I don’t crave the same adrenaline rushes, or need the same extremes as before in order to fully experience life. I don’t have to run around all the time to feel that I am making the most of my existence. I am still an experimenter and very curious; however many of the things I could, or chose to do when younger, seem less important to me right now. I’m more interested in the depth, not the number of my experiences and in putting the fruits of my work to good use for the display that I hope to be producing later in my life.
We equate youth with beauty and functionality. If we make a parallel with nature that means that the only beautiful and useful months in the year are spring and summer. Really? I know many people over sixty who are just as beautiful and capable, if not more than they ever were before.
In more traditional or indigenous societies, old age was revered, just as nature was. Ageing was part of the sacred cycle of life, and each season was celebrated. (In Bali, the grandparents and elders are still given the most beautiful house in the family compound and as a sign of respect it often built higher than the others.) What if we could see our “golden autumn” as a harvest of all that we have learned in life and imagine our ideas and actions as beautiful falling leaves that cover, warm and fertilise the ground ready for the new life that follows?
When I was younger I used to dream of summer all year, and cling to the warm days when September rolled around. Like the boy I spoke to, for me it seemed that all opportunities were in spring and summer. I didn’t appreciate autumn and winter back then. The trees seemed stark and sad without their leaves and the days were dark.
Now I embrace each season. Soon the jewel-like leaves will have fallen and all will be quiet. Yet as my mother once pointed out to me, it is only when the trees are bare that you can truly appreciate their form. It is only then, that I can see the landscape around them, which is hidden in summer by all their foliage.
Winter affords a different type of beauty: a clarity, a stripping down to the essence of things. It appears that everything is dead, yet we all know that the earth is simply resting and new life will spring forth once more. “So what about our own winter?” you may ask. If you see things from the perspective of the seasons, although it appears we have died, we are simply transformed and grow again. Now surely that is the ultimate adventure and rather than something to run from, something to look forward to?
At the end of the day it is all a matter of perspective.
What do you think about getting older?
How do you feel about the seasons?
Photo by Nesrin Everett
People remind me of trees. A sapling, needs to be nurtured and sheltered, it is so very delicate and fragile. As a young tree grows, it becomes stronger, yet remains very flexible which is wonderful, for when a strong wind comes, the tree can bend and this flexibility allows it to survive. Young people similarly have flexible bodies and minds that are open, allowing them to adapt to new situations and be open to new concepts. Like people, young trees are very beautiful, with smooth shiny barks, straight trunks and fresh shimmering leaves.
As a tree gets older its trunk thickens, and the bark develops furrows. It’s perfect straightness may change, it may develop bends in its trunk, or lean a certain way. Now, rather than just pointing at the sky some of its branches may hang low. It is not as flexible as before, it is solid, hardened, its roots run deep and spread far. However, when a storm comes it is tough enough to weather it. Although it does not bend like a young tree its deep roots remain firm, and its trunk is strong. It’s beauty remains. It bears fruit which provides the seeds for new saplings to sprout forth, it shelters them with its shade and provides nutrients and moisture for them. It provides an ecosystem for animals, insects and birds to thrive in, as well as sustenance for humans in the form of fruit or nuts, sap, bark, and leaves.
Just as a tree’s beauty remains constant with age, so does a human’s. Older people have deeper and stronger values. This and their life experience gives them the strength to weather the storms. With their wisdom and capability they are able to nurture and shelter the young trees and provide strength and support to the others. Their branches are both pointing up to the sky and leaning down. Like a whirling dervish they participate in the cycle of life, with one hand leaning up to heaven and the other down to the earth. Grounded and yet connected to the higher realms. For them, its not just about reaching up but also giving back.
We all know the joy of watching young trees dancing and swaying in the wind, the beauty and promise that youth brings. We also know the joy of sitting in the shade of an old tree, a tree that was there before we were born, and that will be there hundreds of years after we die. A tree that has nurtured so many plants and animals, and born witness to so many events over the centuries, while remaining steadfast. There is a sense of peace, constancy, beauty and security in that.
May we strive to value both trees and people at all stages of their growth cycle, to always appreciate their beauty as well as witness their interconnection, and honour the cyclical and eternal nature of universal life.