For one of my classes, I have to volunteer at a nursing home. While it isn't particularly glamorous, the experience has been quite a thought provoking one, to say the least.
At first, I disassociated my personal life with that of the residents, categorizing these old, verge-of-death, dementia victims as a group that has nothing to do with me. After all, I'm only 19; I don't have to think about these things. But then I did, and realized the gravity of the matter.
That could—and probably will—be me one day. If there's one thing I've learned from this class, it's that aging is inevitable, natural, and will happen to all of us. It isn't easy to conceptualize what we will be like 50 or so years from now, and it's discomforting to think that there will likely be a day I won't be able to go to the bathroom by myself... and I know I'm not the only one afraid of it.
This fear stuck with me for a while, and it still freaks me out a little bit—not going to lie. But what I've come to realize is that aging is what you make of it. It's a part of life, so why be so afraid? I remember when I couldn't wait to be a year older, when turning 11 was so much cooler than being 10. And now I don't want to grow up. The "forever young" idolization that society has perpetuated has fogged my perception of happiness. But it's stupid.
Youth is a societal structure with no actual meaning. The activities we take part in during our golden years don't have to end there. Sure, with age comes responsibilities, but we will be fortunate enough to have the life experience to perform them. By virtue of existing in a state of dread and avoidance, we are creating an illusion of pessimism that clouds our ability to appreciate the time we are lucky to have.
There are so many days where I scroll through my Snapchat memories and get all nostalgic, missing the "simpler times." But what I fail to recognize is that even then, life was happening. Life is happening all the time. Shit's always going on. There will always be highs and lows, no matter how many rotations around the sun you've completed. Just because you're in your 50s doesn't mean you don't deserve to enjoy life as much as you did in your teens. It's simply a different phase of life. We will never stop growing up, and with each day, we will become wiser, more experienced, and ultimately better versions of ourselves.
When I lived in Asia, I recognized a cross cultural mentality: old = good. Aging is celebrated. Each birthday marks the completion of another year living and learning - and that's probably the best outlook to carry. It's easy to fall victim to the glorification of youth; however, by acknowledging each day as something to look forward to, and the past as something to be grateful for, we can live productively, mindfully, and contently.
As Mark Twain put it, "age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."