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December 15, 2023

The beauty of kindness

“As we get older,” said Victor Hugo, “let’s try to win at what we might call the beauty of kindness.” For older women like myself, these are sweet words to read this morning. I’m powerless in the face of time-sapping age, but I can put purple on my eyelids, pink on my lips, a brooch on my collar and African violets in my heart.

Our physical envelope withers, weakens, crumples and shrinks. Often, a glance reveals the same picture: a dark outfit, a slow pace and a cane for a friend. I had 3 at home: one purple cane, one yellow and one brown, which I forgot on the plane during my last trip to Toronto. My memory sometimes deserts me. Aging is turning out to be an adventure like no other, I tell myself.

Carpe diem. I welcome everything that happens to me with the intensity of the present moment that had once been taken away from me by the commotion of the world, the whirlwind of projects, the ups and downs of a frenetic life. Thankfully, optimism is my steady companion, and instead of becoming a bitter and teary-eyed old woman, I insist on dressing up in bright-coloured clothes, creating cheer and human warmth that our world so needs wherever I go.

Let’s not kid ourselves: The capacity to enjoy old age isn’t determined mainly by the circumstances of our lives but rather our state of mind. With a positive mindset and creative flair, I create a mental construction in my head, a mystic fountain of youth that keeps me going.

We, the toughened souls of life, have lived our share of upheavals, and often later in life, reap all the good from our long experience. I love my 76 years and I’m not ashamed to hobble, lose my keys or forget an important detail. I write words on the back and in the palm of my hand. I always jot down everything in a notepad so nothing escapes me. I enjoy being like a delicious candied fruit, a little bite of wisdom.

When I was about 50, I read this priceless phrase in a book on Japan: ima kara, which means “From now on” in English. Believe it or not, I went to Japan a few years after reading the book and I saw with my own eyes beautiful elderly people doing gymnastics in the park, socializing, chatting, eating together, playing checkers or strumming the shamisen (a three-stringed instrument with a long neck whose resonance box is traditionally made of sandalwood). The youthfulness of their hearts was plain to see.

Engineer, biologist and philosopher Albert Jacquard said at 86, “Getting old is continuing to participate with changing means. Yes, I run slower, jump lower, but as long as I can stir up new emotions in my heart, share something with others, enrich others through my contact, then maybe I am not too old.”

According to Marie de Hennezel, a writer and well-known specialist on the “adventure of aging,” our acceptance of aging entails a narcissistic revolution that takes us from the body we see in the mirror to the body we are – the lived body, the inhabited body, the body of the here and now. This narcissistic revolution allows us to stop complaining and to start looking at the things that will never wear out or diminish: the heart and the mind.

Today’s last morsel of wisdom comes to me from a former army general of the United States, Douglas MacArthur. “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair; these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.” As well as, “you are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair….When your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old. And then, indeed as the ballad says, you just fade away.”

All of you young’uns reading, make sure to sow your youth wisely so you will reap an old age filled with confidence and hope.

Many are afraid of physical aging and are worried about losing their good looks. They forget that the beauty of seniors resides in the charming expression on their faces – THE BEAUTY OF KINDNESS – a smile and gaze that never grows old.