By Carmelene Melanie Siani
I was having lunch in one of my favorite restaurants when a man walked by my table slowly.
He was bent from the waist and was very carefully putting one foot in front of the other, almost consciously shifting his balance before moving the other foot forward.
I could relate to him.
There had been a time only a few short years before when I wouldn’t have ever thought I could relate to him. He looked like such an “old person.” But that morning in that restaurant, watching him struggle to walk on his own to the soda fountain to get a drink and precariously carry it back to his table, I could relate to him.
At 75 years of age, my body too was no longer behaving as it once had and I could no longer proudly exclude myself from people who looked “old” because, there was no question; I walked just like many of them.
I had recently heard a dharma talk on aging given by Ray Olson, an 80-something-year-old Buddhist teacher, that was still on my mind.
“We are all aging, every one of us. No one and nothing escapes. We are all impermanent.” ~ Olson
Even I am aging and impermanent, I had thought. I always have been.
When I was young, I didn’t think about aging. My life was mostly about hellos—hello to a new husband, hello to a new house, to new babies. When I was young, there were lots and lots of hellos. But then “impermanence” happened.
My mother got Alzheimer’s disease and I said goodbye. My brother’s baby died and I said goodbye. My father had a lingering illness, my marriage ended, I retired, I lived with someone and then lived alone and along the way I said lots of goodbyes.
“Aging is simply the process of saying goodbye to what was and saying hello to what is to come.” ~ Olson
On top of it all a few years ago, due to illness, I began to age rapidly and faced a long period of struggling to say goodbye to the healthy, youthful image of myself that I didn’t want to let go of. I have said a lot of goodbyes in my life but, as Olson suggested was necessary, wasn’t aware of having said hello to what stood in the wake.
His is a simple concept. Aging well is being able to say goodbye to the fixed notion of who we once were while saying hello to who we are becoming.
I had looked around the dining room when I was having lunch that day and felt the aversion I typically felt when I found myself in a roomful of people who are, in reality, my peers. It occurred to me that so long as I was afraid of looking at aging in the faces of those around me, I couldn’t embrace it in myself—I couldn’t say hello.
On my way home I wondered.
What if I looked at that dining room of people and instead of seeing them as people I shunned or refused to identify with, I saw them as what they were, my peers? What if when I saw “older” people, I saw them as my tribe? What if I recognized that impermanence is the nature of all things—including them, including me—and knowing that, I embraced this new chapter of my life?
Or, better yet, what if I said goodbye to what was and said hello to what is coming—the great adventure of my life.
Editor: Dana Gornall