Reader essay: Older and Smarter

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 20, 2013 

When I was 12, I believed anyone who was over 30 was old. I wondered vaguely what they did for fun. Life must be boring when you're old.

Now that I'm over 80, 30 is in the distant past and incredibly young. I now look in the mirror and see what others see. I am old and beginning to understand what that means in my own life.

I am old, but I am young - inside me, that is. It is a paradox; one of life's big contradictions. My body is old, slowing down. My spirit is young and vibrant. What do I do with that insight?

I was quite peaceful in my 70s. My 80s have stirred my spirit into action, into using my voice.

My challenge now is to live with that contradiction, to make it work for me and my community. It's learning to live a life with integrity, living on the outside what I believe on the inside.

What is difficult is pulling together what has meaning for me. I am told what to believe, how to be happy, how to save and spend money, what political views to have. And hurry up.

What drives me personally is the determination to give something back, to make a difference. This is not stuffy "old person" talk. It is what wise people have told us over the centuries. Eric Utne said, "It's time for your 'encore career,' time to give something back to meet society's biggest challenges."

If not me? Who? If not now? When? Just remember that we have much good left in us we need to use.

How do I/we do this? We make it up as we go along, noticing our mile markers so we can stay the course. Celebrate the paradox!

- Joan Hilmoe, Bellingham

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