This may be the end of the year, but for those who celebrate Christmas, December is a beginning.
The season is called Advent, and I remember having an Advent calendar when I was in grade school. Many of the kids who went to the Episcopal church I did had these magical, midnight blue calendars that stood up on a bedroom dresser. They were covered with glitter and had fancy windows for every day of December, leading up to Christmas.
December 1 was Day One. And each day of Advent we would open a new, little window that marked the steps of Mary and Joseph’s journey, leading up to Christmas. After years of opening the same windows on this same calendar, I was still surprised and a little thrilled to see the hand-painted Advent scenes.
Advent is meant to be a time of anticipation, of awareness that something good is coming. Wouldn’t it be nice to borrow a bit of this cheer for the years ahead in our own lives?
Bette Davis once said that old age is not for sissies. I think her often-cited words stereotype aging. They encourage older people to think of aging as a time of suffering, and the only remedy is to find some satisfaction in soldiering through it. But old age is not about suffering. It is about every human emotion you can imagine.
Maybe we should say old age is not for the inexperienced. You need years behind you to appreciate the good days and to handle the not-so-good days ahead of you. Our later years are not a sad ride on the downslope. They are a time of self-exploration, maturity, perspective, wisdom, living in the present, joy over simple moments and over moments of profound illumination. Aging is about putting all the pieces of our lives together so we can glimpse our purpose and, perhaps, our place in the universe. According to Lars Tornstam, a Swedish aging researcher, old age is even a time of transcendence.
I know. Growing old is not like having Christmas every morning with presents and endless cocoa. Things can happen. But there is enchantment in our future. Even if our routine seems too routine, we can recognize something unexpected in the familiar. Unlike a child, an older person has the ability to see the greater picture. To see metaphor in reality. To enjoy the fullness of the ordinary and comprehend the complexity of what it is to be human.
There is no time like our time. Our accumulation of years should never be underestimated. We can look out on the world on any day and find another beginning.