“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16
I have always seen my grandparents as old. Maybe it was the weathered skin from years of working on a farm, or the age spots from sun exposure. Maybe it was the thinning hair or the fact that they had a grandfather clock. But from the time I was a child, they seemed ancient. They both have since passed, but in doing the math, I am older, now, than my grandmother was when I was born, and only a year younger than my grandfather was. Does this make me old? It does, according to one cheeky young student in our church who guessed my age to be six years older than I am.
Age is an interesting paradox in our society. We seem to gravitate towards wood and metal furniture with the patina of age, giving a piece a curated, aged history. Yet, store beauty aisles are filled with serums and moisturizers promising to eliminate wrinkles, giving our skin the supple glow of youth. We honor the elders who are active contributors to our society but stop visiting those who are in the latter stages of dementia. Some of us seem to fight aging by hanging on to our youth, while others embrace it by closing our minds and hearts to the world around us, slowly waiting for death.
I wrestle in the middle space of wanting to stay active and still embrace aging. How do I keep my mind and body active while aging gracefully? How do I embrace my history, stay in the present, and look to the future when my life is probably half over? I found clarity in the lives of three remarkable people who lived into their eighties and beyond. All three have died, recently, and it’s in their later years that I have found inspiration.
In early August, I sadly sent out a text to my family reporting that historian and author David McCullough died. This “National Treasure” as some have labeled him, had written thirteen books, inspiring generations about the American spirit through its innovation, leadership, and courage. I have read all his books, some of which have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. I even attended one of his book signings and heard him speak about the Wright brothers. McCullough purposefully chose subjects and persons that contributed positively to society. Once he started doing research on Picasso but found his life reprehensible and couldn’t continue in good conscience. Remarkably, McCullough completed six books since he was sixty-eight years old. These were done by engaging in hours of research, typing drafts on his old Royal typewriter, and editing with the help of his wife. History was his passion because he believed it “is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” In knowing my history, I have a better understanding of who I am and why I respond the way I do. This allows me to move forward with clarity and purpose, unhindered by messages of the past.
My second remarkable person, Queen Elizabeth II, died last week. The beloved queen lived to be ninety-six years old, making her the longest reigning monarch ever. Some would say that Elizabeth was born into privilege, but she recognized that with this privilege came a lot of responsibility. She faithfully carried out her duties with grace and purpose, exemplified by her meeting with the new prime minister two days before her death. She clearly understood her place in history, but it was in the daily living where Queen Elizabeth II shone. She traveled to many different countries on behalf of her subjects, adapted to the new world in which she lived, and chose to live an honorable life. Yes, she wore beautiful jewels and resided in incredible palaces. But she understood that her life was to serve her country and leave it a better place. She once said, “I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else—I can give my heart and my devotion…” I may not have crowns to wear, but like Queen Elizabeth II, I can choose to serve those around me with my whole heart and devotion. I can choose to be represent well the God I serve by sincerely modeling the life and teachings of Jesus.
The last person, Herbert Kohler, might only be recognizable to you if you look at the label of your bathroom fixtures. For me, “Herbie” Kohler was a local celebrity in Sheboygan County where I grew up. He died almost two weeks at age eighty-three. Kohler became the president of his father’s bathroom fixture company at young age. He immediately set out to grow his company by focusing on design, rebranding Kohler to be synonymous with high-end bathroom fixtures. This love for design carried over in remodeling the immigrant housing unit in Kohler into a luxury hotel, the American Club. He then developed two world-class golf courses making Sheboygan County one of the top golfing destinations in the world, hosting several major golf tournaments. A writer at the Chicago Tribune commented that only Herb Kohler could turn “rural farmland into a golf mecca and a toilet into a work of art.” His vision was revolutionary and met with a lot of opposition. But Kohler continued to press forward, making his dreams come true. His vision has added economic value to the place I grew up, but more importantly, Kohler has been generous to the community, including supporting the arts, scholarships and helping the needy. He looked to building the future of his company and community by enriching their lives. His example of vision casting is important. It’s not enough for me to know my history and live well today. I need to be helping future generations by enriching their lives through my contributions.
Maybe you’re not a historian, an anglophile, or care about golf in Sheboygan County, but I believe that if you study these three lives, it can inspire you to end your life well. Some might say they were their most productive in the latter half of their lives, continuing to find ways to be contribute to their communities right until the very end. For me, aging is not something I can stop and with that fact, it’s very possible that my grandson and soon-to-arrive granddaughter will always see me as old. But I find comfort in 2 Corinthians 4:16 where Paul says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” I will never win a Pulitzer Prize, be crowned queen, or have my name on a scholarship. Instead, I am woman who is seeking God to learn from my past, to serve well today, and to help build a place where my grandchildren will thrive and grow. The only way I know how to do this well, is to daily come to Jesus and allow His spirit to renew me. This daily renewal will help me age gracefully!