Is There an Ideal Age?


I turned 74 years old last month. How did that happen? 

I recall a time someone asked me, “If you could be any age, what would it be?” I don't remember my answer but am relatively certain it was not 74. I remember wanting to be a different age....16 so I could get a driver’s license, 18 so I could graduate from high school, 22 so I could graduate from college and get on with life, and then 65 so I could retire and do just what I wanted to do. It seems we are always looking to be some other place, in some other time.

These recollections caused me to spend some time thinking about age. It so defines us, especially in this culture. Age influences how we act, feel and view ourselves.

The viewing of ourselves and others is particularly significant and within our power to change. We have preconceived notions of what an 18 year old thinks and does. We have defined ideas of what a 74 year should do. 

I recalled Eric Erikson’s thoughts about the tasks we should address in each decade of life. I think he was right about the life experiences that we need to address: being a child, growing into adolescence and young adulthood, developing skills to support ourselves, building a family, making friends, preparing for old age, and accepting changes that come with all stages of our development. I suspect most of us are so busy doing that we rarely think about how we are progressing as we address, manage and complete all the tasks Erikson would say need to be addressed in each decade/stage
of life development. Sometimes, we have no choice!

I have always tried to pack as much into a day as I possibly could. But in February 2007, my body took over and created mobility issues that forced me to stop. I saw this quote on Facebook: “I really don’t mind getting older but my body is taking it badly!” That's exactly how I felt that February day. I was angry and scared, but eventually grew to appreciate the slowing down. I began to focus on living in the moment and not thinking about what I was going to do next. I realized I was seeing things I had ignored for years: the subtle changing of the seasons as buds began to form in the flower bed beside my carport, the cardinal that perched on the railing of my deck, the smile of the child in the grocery cart next to me, the gentle breathing of my soul-friend, my dog, Miss Babs.

It took some time for me to slow down. I would wake up and wonder what I needed to accomplish that day, think about writing a to-do list, wonder if it mattered to anyone if I got up. I could work myself into a state about my inability to DO. I worked on not being anxious about my health, my financial stability, the health of family and friends, the state of the country and world. I ran across the following poem which put these anxieties into perspective, even though my anxieties have never focused on house chores!

Dust If You Must

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb;
Music to hear and books to read;
Friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust if you must but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes and wind in your hair;

A flutter of snow, a shower of rain
This day will not come around again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind
Old age will come and it’s not kind!
And when you go (and go you must)
You yourself will make more dust!

This poem was written by Rose Milligan from Lancaster in Lancashire, England. She wrote it based on Genesis 3:19. It comes down to a stark reality: each minute that we grow older, we will have
used that minute wisely, or not. C.S. Lewis said “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you
can start here to change the ending.”

I began to ponder my life and wonder if there are things I would like to change. I concluded that I need to play more! I need to stop obsessing about the state of the world and strive to make a tiny difference in the life of a person, an animal, a plant every single day. I need to live in this very moment.

So, the answer to the question of what age I would like to be is 74!

As Robert Browning says, “Grow old with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life for which the first
was made.” It has taken every minute of these 74 years to create the person I am, for better or worse. I am striving to appreciate the good, accept the not so good, let go of the negative and look forward to every day with anticipation and love for all creation.

Wilda Ferguson is a retired social worker who spent her career in various social service departments, the Department for the Aging, and Westminster Canterbury of Richmond. She also served as city manager of Manassas Park, VA and worked for a Virginia Health Insurance company. She has been active at Chrysalis Institute since the late 1990s and served as choir director/organist in several local churches.

Elizabeth Smartt