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Change is cunning, creeping up without my permission, altering my world despite my protests. Wait a minute, when did those wrinkles appear around my eyes and mouth? Surely they were not there yesterday. How can that be my mother’s eyes looking back at me from my mirror? When did my husband get all that gray hair and when did all my friends get to be so old? My children should still be young and yet my daughter is completing her 24th year of teaching. My husband and I are celebrating 50 years of marriage, but that too is impossible because inside I am still a young woman.

Change is confusing. How do I acknowledge or accept the old person I see in the mirror? The grunts and groans I utter as I rise from a chair cannot be coming from my mouth. When did I slip into the “at-risk” population with a target on my back for Covid-19 simply because of the years I have lived? I stomp my feet (or I would if it didn’t hurt my knees so much) and wrangle with change, demanding that I be returned to the time before, the time when I was young. Yet ultimately I must accept that change has happened and I am growing old.  

If my anger and rage at growing old cannot cannot alter the reality, the question then becomes, what do I do now? Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” resonates with me. I cannot stop the change. I cannot nor do I really wish to turn back the years. My greatest desire is to go into this new era of my life with determination and courage, accepting with grace the limitations but also refusing to bow before them.  

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Yes, change has happened. My body has aged and now my knees prevent me from running and hiking with my grandchildren. But instead of mourning the things I cannot do with them, I search for and find meaningful ways to be part of their lives. I am the storyteller, I am the creator of exciting treasure hunts, and I am the one with time to listen to anything they have to say, and my grandson has much to say. 

I cannot walk in protest, but I can write and call and make my voice heard in other ways. Yes, I miss the young healthy body that I used to have, but good has also accompanied age. Love has deepened and determination has grown. My voice now dares to speak what I believe with less concern about the opinion of others. 

The gift of time allows me to slow down and enjoy things that were once taken for granted. The magnificent trees outside my mountain home, the call of the Barred Owl, the rhythmic music of the creek that runs beside our home, all of these I am learning to see and love. 

I take my position as the family storyteller very seriously and now have time to research and write my family’s story for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Just as the abundance of time has freed me to pursue important interests, the brevity of time also compels me to have rousing conversations with my granddaughters and grandson about the battles that must be fought in our world. As I am forced to accept my own mortality, the urgency of working to secure a better world for the coming generations is clear. 

I will not go quietly because there is still much to be done and much to be enjoyed. 

Barbara Painter

Barbara Painter is a retired school teacher and counselor.

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