Plum Village had the above meditation chant on my Facebook this morning. It is a good one to use in formal meditation. No one can escape old age unless death intervenes. You say it over and over again so the self can accept this reality.
A friend told me that one of child's playmate's died during the week. She was trying to explain this to her daughter. It was a two layer thing as she had to explain that her friend had died and what death was and explaining death to a nine year old is not easy. It isn't at any age even an adult. Her family had the child in question over the house on many occasions so all of them had gotten to know her well. She was a delightful child but a troubled one. The second layer involved the reason for her death. Her father had killed her in a dispute with the mother. That was very difficult to explain to her daughter. How do you explain that a care taker, a parent had done such a thing? He had killed himself later.
This was not about old age. Yes, it was. For a similar thing happened to a childhood friend when I was growing up too. We all leave friends behind in childhood as this daughter of a friend was learning now. It is part of life to experience death and to experience many things such as aging. We all have mirrors. We will all watch ourselves age from that childhood to old age.
There is no way we can avoid it, but we can deny this truth for many years. We deny death as we deny many things. If we are men, we can shave with our eye closed. Not all women wear make-up. We can avoid the mirror. We can avoid the friends that are no longer there, the relatives that have disappeared. Then one day it hits us like a bolt out of the sky. We are old, our hair is grey, our joints and muscles ache. Sales clerks start giving us senior citizen discounts.
Wouldn't it be better to slowly ease our way into older age? We have all seen people fighting old age with heavier and heavier make-up, dyed hair, fashionable and young looking clothes and more time spent at the gym and still having young children calling one grandma or grandpa. I know people who instruct their grandchildren to call them by their first names. It all catches up with us. The constant questioning: "How old do you think I look?"
I watched an episode of Midsomer Murders and it was set in an convalescent home. One resident said that when you get old, you become invisible. When people started to die in the home no one thought anything about it because the residents were elderly in the first place. Even the doctor got irritated with the people who lived there and their complaints. Culture and society places a lesser value on the older citizen. That does not mean the individual has to. I can't change the world but I can change how I view myself.
There is a lot of life that happens every day we have to strive to accept. As a child, we see death coming in early to take our playmates, relatives and even parents. This continues to happen as we grow older. There is so much of life to accept on a daily basis that I don't want to accept everything because it means so much more. Growing old means the death of dreams of so many things, of endless plans of living in places beyond the horizon, of romance and being young and beautiful, of living in a thousand fairy tales that I am the heroine. It means seeing the end of things of what must of been in the eyes of that little girl just before her father killed her.
It is a rough life out there, but as a zen master said once to Joseph Campbell, life is just what it is and nothing more or nothing less, life is. I don't understand what happens everyday and I have to accept that. I have to accept the fact I don't know a lot of things but what I do know is that I am getting older and nothing will stop that except death. Nothing will stop me aging. Breath in. I know I will get old. Breath out. My life consists of this moment. It is a small room, this moment and it is all that I have, all I should have, all any of us will ever have.