Part of successful aging is finally making peace with yourself, disarming your demons, reconciling with your regrets, forgiving yourself for some bad choices along the way and accepting and appreciating the life you’ve lived and the person you’ve become.
For most of us, life hasn’t been a fairy tale, but it’s still been amazing. It’s been full of surprises. It’s been mostly good. It hasn’t been everything, but it’s been enough. We’re satisfied. And it’s not over yet. It just needs a few finishing touches to be complete.
Self-acceptance is a sign of elder wisdom. Unfortunately, some people have difficulty experiencing this serenity because they are bedeviled by “what-ifs,” “what might have beens” and “if onlys.”
I’m reminded of an experience while attending a convention in Atlanta several years ago. I was in a crowded elevator when I noticed a woman staring at me. I didn’t recognize her. Finally, she wriggled her way between people until she was standing face-to-face in front of me. She still didn’t look familiar.
“Don’t you know me?” she asked.
I looked blank.
“Aren’t you Dr. Ramsey? Dr. Robert D. Ramsey?” she added.
“Yes,” I answered, still with no hint of recognition.
“Well, aren’t you my gynecologist from Colorado Springs?” she pursued.
I wasn’t. She was crestfallen. I was amused.
But it got me to wondering. Maybe I could have been a gynecologist from Colorado Springs. What if I had done things differently?
I could have remained living in Kansas. I could have been a lawyer or journalist or farmer or movie star. (Well, maybe not a movie star.) Maybe I might have won the lottery. Or struck oil. I might have gone to sea or been an astronaut. What if I had moved to New York City or lived in Paris? Or …?
It’s possible I might have had a more successful, exciting, adventuresome life. But I didn’t. I did what I did instead. Of course, dwelling on what we may have missed out on can be frustrating, troubling and upsetting. Fortunately, with age, most of us escape this mental quagmire and don’t become consumed by missed opportunities and thoughts of what might have been.
The long view that accompanies age and maturity enables us to put our lives in perspective. At last, we can finally fully appreciate and be grateful for all the wonderful real people, places, experiences and memorable moments that have made up the life we actually lived. For most of us, it hasn’t been perfect, but it has been special. We wouldn’t want to trade it for fantasies and fairy tales.
From the vantage point of my dotage, I have to agree with the French writer Colette, who said, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
Embracing the life we’ve had and the person we turned out to be is another gift of growing older. The late-life writer Joe Machlis may have said it best: “(When) you’ve finished with the disquietude, the discontent, the big ambition, you accept yourself.”
St. Louis Park resident Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for vital aging. He can be contacted at 952-922-9558 or by email at [email protected]