A while back, I was hustling through a mall to get to a business lunch.
It was the holiday season. Kiosks dotted the concourse.
A young woman stepped out from one of them and thrust a tube of some sort of miracle cream at me.
Would I be interested in trying a sample, she wanted to know.
I smiled and told her I was in a hurry to get to a meeting.
Undeterred, she pressed on.
“Can I ask you a question?” she said. “How do you feel about all those lines on your face?”
I stopped, turned and gave her a much bigger smile.
“Like I earned every one of them,” I said and then headed off to my meeting.
I’m about to have a birthday.
When I mentioned that to a friend a few days ago, she responded with the cliché.
“Oh, you don’t look 60,” she said.
Well, yeah, I do. And that’s okay. As that great philosopher Popeye put it, I yam what I yam.
I’ve never understood our culture’s obsession with youth. The same goes for our seeming disdain for old age.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being young. I did. I had fun in my 20s and 30s. I learned the lessons I was supposed to from those years and passed many pleasant hours while I did so. They were good days.
But so were the days that followed. In most ways, they were better. I married. My wife and I had children. My work got richer, deeper and more rewarding in all ways.
Much of that happened because my life ripened. With time and experience, I became more assured and less insecure. I learned to savor the moments and the people I encountered better and more fully. I discovered the value of taking a deep breath, doing a five-count before responding and of trying to consider the situation from the other person’s perspective.
Each additional year reinforced the lesson about the importance of forgiving others and, just as often, myself. There are burdens we must carry in life, but there also are some we don’t have to bear. And shouldn’t bear. Resentment and regret can be among the heaviest. We should set them down whenever we can.
It’s easy to glorify the energy of youth, because it can be intoxicating. When I was a young man, I loved being able to run 10 miles as hard and fast as I could without having to worry about pulling anything or being sore the next day.
It’s true that my gait isn’t as fast as it once was. Age has made me a step or two slower in most things, including rushing to judgment. And that’s to the good.
We say that life is a journey, not a destination.
Too often, though, we act as though it was a journey that should be stopped — or paused — near the start. Our cultural preoccupation with staying eternally young means that we think of our lives too often as a series of losses — lost youth, lost vitality, lost chances — rather than a series of gains.
Each is a gift that time alone can offer us. For that reason, a satisfying old age should be an aspiration, not an anticlimax.
What the young woman in the kiosk with the miracle cream was trying to sell me was the same notion that so much of our culture tries push — that my life would be better, that I would be better, if I could pretend to roll back the clock and look younger once again. She, like so many other people, wanted me to feel bad that I’d grown older.
To many people, I suppose, my face might have looked better and more attractive when it was younger, unlined, smoother. But that fresh face was the one I was born with.
This is the face, through both good days and bad, through success and failure, through hard work and hard lessons, that I’ve earned with the life I’ve led.
Every line of it.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.