“Age.” Hearing this word conjures up a myriad of emotions and images: crinkly smiles, ancient relics, birthday candles and celebrations, family reunions and wedding anniversaries; traces of fear, the uncertainty of unknown future; but also of wisdom and pride and a quiet assurance. We are aged, not by years alone, but by the experiences attached to those years passing.
When one speaks of age, inevitably we speak of maturity: a level of development and wisdom that should, but doesn’t always reflect the number of years we have lived. How many of us have heard the question from a weary mother’s mouth: “Why don’t you act your age?” Think about these other phrases: “Grow up!”, “You are so immature!”, or “She is wise beyond her years.” These statements reflect an expectation of a certain behavior associated with the number of years we have been alive. But what do these statements mean, exactly? Should there be a type of behavior that automatically corresponds to each year of life? On what basis are these expectations formed?
Developmentally, we know we advance over time, our brains expanding and growing, new synapses created with each new connection. We can see how quickly new skills are learned and mastered by observing babies from birth. But we know that development does not happen at the same pace for everyone; and how we develop depends not only on our when but also our life’s where and how.
Like a well-aged cheese, where the appropriate taste and texture come only under the right conditions–ingredients carefully measured, environment controlled, light, heat and time precise–our own maturity and unique personality are as much tied to our natural environment, and life events, as it is to our genetic makeup.
What kinds of experiences we encounter in our lifetime, as well as the choices we make can impact our own development and unique level of “age”; Whether we be 10 or 100, our emotional, relational, intellectual or physical self may have aged disproportionate to the number of years we have lived. Before labeling someone as immature and naive, or old and crotchety, we need to understand each person within context of their life experiences. We also should question the mixed messages we may be sending when we lament children “growing up too fast,” while scolding them for not growing up fast enough.
So which is better: To be “young at heart”, or “mature beyond our years”? Are the two necessarily mutually exclusive? Whichever it is, one thing is certain: age is something we all have in common. To varying degrees, all of us are worn, and shaped by it. Will we choose to turn bitter or sour over time, or will we choose to sharpen, sweeten and increase in value? Ever notice how the desires and perceptions of the viewer can change the description of an object from “old” to “aged”, or from “used” to “antique”? Age–like beauty–truly is “in the eye of the beholder.” And our self worth lies simply in our own perspective.
But let’s get one thing straight: Just like an aged block of cheddar, bottle of Chianti or cherished family heirloom, we can be sure of one thing: the value that comes with aging doesn’t happen overnight, so let’s savor the process, shall we?
Over the course of this month, we will be exploring themes related to age and aging: Cultural assumptions and traditions about age, the history and ages of buildings on the North Shore, time capsules, recipes using aged ingredients, and some relevant events happening this month related to age. These are the connections we are making, and sharing with you. Enjoy!