As a small child, I can remember his towering figure, his energetic personality and Irish blue eyes that would light up every time we as his grandchildren would enter into his home. My grandfather, who would run with us in the playground, take us fishing and pretend to eat the worms we were using as bait, and who would toss us handfuls of candy whenever we visited him like actor Aubrey Wood’s character ”The Candyman” in the film “Willie Wonka’s the Chocolate Factory,” was the child I wanted to be when I grew up.
Even though my maternal grandfather grew up as a foster child and never really experienced a childhood during the middle of the Great Depression, he was able to experience it with his grandchildren. With his childlike curiosity mixed with a grandparent’s ability to savor every precious moment, he embraced being a grandfather to the fullest. And while my cousins and I grew older and slowly became teenagers, our grandfather grew older too, losing some of that physical energy he once had when we were very little, but still showering us with love and enough sarcasm so we would still think that he was cool.
“I have two pieces of advice,” he said to me a year before he passed away when I was in my late twenties. “First, never grow old. Second, if you do grow old, cherish every moment you have because someday you will grow old with gray hair like me.”
To my family, my grandfather had the humor of Red Skelton and the hero persona of John Wayne. Yet my grandfather understood the preciousness of life while even embracing the process of aging. To him, he saw aging as a rite of passage and as a reward in life for living as long as he did.
It’s a fault in our Western culture that we do not appreciate the process of aging. Through our efforts in medicine and technology to make ourselves look younger and the mourning process we go through every time our birthday marks a new decade for us, we find ourselves resisting the passage of time rather than embracing it. Perhaps it’s our culture’s fascination with youth and vitality or our deepest fear of our own mortality. But in the end, it’s our mortality that truly defines us as being human.
Seeing ourselves age, experiencing the loss of loved ones, and losing part of ourselves through the aging process can cause us to live in fear. However, we should remember we don’t go through the process alone. For God’s presence in our lives remains as the only unchanging and unaging variable in the journey through this thing called life. Our hair may turn gray and our bodies will eventually fail us, but God is still with us through every moment of it.
“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life,” we are reminded in Proverbs 16:31. “I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and rescue you,” we read in Isaiah.
For baby boomers who are beginning to feel the quick passage of time as many of themselves become grandparents. To my millennial counterparts who are starting to witness their parents grow old and those like myself who are beginning to settle down. Or to other millennials who gave up late night bar crawls and sporty coupes for soccer games and minivans several years ago, let us not mourn the process of growing older. But rather, let us celebrate it as a rite of passage that we are still here and see it as an opportunity to fully enjoy the preciousness of life.
“Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us, writes Henri-Frédéric Amiel. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”