The most surprising thing about aging--getting old--is how surprising it is.
When I met "old" people, I imagined that they had always been old...in the same way that I was always young. Old people would say things like, "I don't feel any different now than I did when I was in my 20's." They were not talking so much about how they felt physically. Rather, they were acknowledging the differential between how it felt to be who they were looking from the inside out vs. how they were now being perceived by those of us on the outside looking in. It's only as I look at photographs of how I looked in my 30's, 40's and even 50's that I am able to gain some purchase on the verifiable fact that I am getting "old." I am surprised.
I wonder how "getting old" was experienced before photography?
In today's reading, Sister Joan states, "Our image of an aging population is more commonly an image of debilitation and dependence, of unhappy isolation and social uselessness, of sad souls exiled to the fringes of life and left living along in a world long gone." Yikes! She contrasts this "image" of aging with, "Aging, at least in the developed world, is instead a period of sweet liberation and possibility." "Discontinuity may be one of the defining factors of age in the modern world. But his dislocation and discontinuity is also something else. It is a moment of late but emancipating possibility." "There is a startling experience of variety in it all. A kind of giddy sense of possibility."
My guess is (because I still see myself looking at aging from the outside:) that the recognition of possibility in one's later years does not take one by surprise. Rather, it is a habit of the heart that one has exercised for years--it is a skill of the soul that one brings with them into the those later years. It's the way of seeing, through the given impossibilities of whatever moment one is in, the possibility that things can be other and giving oneself to that possibility in whatever way one can.
I must confess, Sister Joan's summary of the common image of aging is not surprising. Her claim that aging is rich with "emancipating possibility," and ripe with "a kind of giddy sense of possibility" is. I guess it's possible.
There is a mustard seed of possibility that awaits our recognition in every present of our lives. That's the shape faith takes, Jesus said. "For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard see, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there', and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)