Our appearance changes as we age (just not much if you’re Dolly Parton). Most of us past midlife know we look different, but haven’t entirely made our peace with our changing looks. Some wrinkles are OK, a little graying, but we still would like to look younger than the average person our age. We know that about each other, so, when asked to guess a mid-to-older adult’s age, we are likely to play it safe and deliberately underestimate.
Of course, not everyone is complicit in this game of ego-protection. I recently read As Long as I Live: Thoughts on Growing Older, a sometimes funny, sometimes profound reflection on aging by Jake Eppinga, now deceased but retired from ministry when he wrote the book. He tells of a pastoral visit to a rest home. While there, he recognized that the roommate of his parishioner was someone he knew forty years earlier. The man was lying with his eyes closed, and Eppinga was struck by how much he had aged. “His hair and teeth were gone; his cheeks were sunken, and his skin was sallow. . . . Seldom had I seen one upon whom the aging process had left such a devastating stamp.” At that point, the man’s eyes opened, and, as Eppinga tells it, “Lifting his head weakly from the pillow, he mentioned my name. Searching my face, he said, “Boy, did you get old!’”
I thought of this incident recently as I reflected on a few things that will happen next month. I will turn 65 on June 2, and will go to a 50-year reunion for my junior high class on June 15. I’m sure that at the reunion I’ll be thinking, “Boy, did they get old!” They, of course, will think the same of me. Do I look my age? Probably. I know some people older than me who look younger, and some younger folks who look older. I don’t think that how old I look matters much to me; when I look in the mirror I ask myself “Is my hair combed?” not “Do I look old?” I probably will think of appearance some at the reunion though, and not just about combed or uncombed hair. Getting together with a bunch of people who started life’s journey the same place and time as I did seems to evoke all sorts of comparisons. Given our propensity to make such comparisons, it would be nice if we compared ourselves not as to appearance but as to how we grew in wisdom, generosity, or kindness. We can’t see each other’s wisdom, generosity, or kindness, though. On the 15th I’ll be interested not only in my classmates, but also in my reactions to them.