There is a joke that my husband and I revisit with much pleasure. It concerns two elderly men who had memory loss.

One said to his friend, “At last I’ve found the solution! I’m going to a wonderful memory school. They give you strategies you can put in place to remember things.”

The other said, “I’d be interested in that. What’s the school called?”

The man held up his hand. “Just a moment and I’ll tell you. There is a very popular flower.

It’s fragrant, it grows on a bush and it has thorns – “

“A rose?” suggested his friend.

“That’s right!” the man replied. He then turned to his wife. “Rose? Rose? What is the name of that memory school?”

While we can laugh at the inconvenience of aging, there are also gifts given us. Here are a few that hold my gratitude.

1. In the earlier stages of life, it seemed that I was all over the place. When I look back now, I see a straight line from there to here, and all of it appears right and necessary for growth.

2. Some of the hardest times can now be seen as the richest. Pain makes good compost for growth but it takes a while to break down. Looking back, I see times of pain associated with a rebirthing in myself.

3. I thought I was mature at 16. People told me I was mature when I turned 21. I discovered that the real age of maturity is 50.

4. When I was in my twenties, I was full of questions about the meaning of life. I don’t think I got any answers. The questions themselves just disappeared. I realized if there was no answer to a question, I was asking the wrong question.

5: I cannot tell young people how to live. They would not understand. We can always see where we’ve come from but not where we are going. But I can listen to young people and be with them where they are. A good honest memory is important in this, and I need to resist the temptation to rewrite my own history.

6. I smile when I remember the anxieties of youth, the shyness, the embarrassment, the fear of making mistakes. Making mistakes was and still is, an important part of learning. This makes me eager to tackle new things without fear. Learning something new is one of the richest gifts of life.

8. There is a saying in Judaism that we live in only one per cent of reality, knowing only what comes through our five senses. The other ninety-nine per cent, they say, is the spiritual realm all around us. One of the lovely things about getting older is that we are getting nearer the ninety-nine per cent, and the spiritual world sometimes creeps in by osmosis.

9. We get a sense that everything that happens to us is a teacher. From day to day, we experience amazing coincidence. We ask a question: the answer turns up. We have a need, it is met. Possessions become less important, and we seem to have grown beyond our earlier definitions of material values. We realize that the only wealth we really keep, is the wealth we give away.

10. As the old prison of a body starts breaking down, we become more aware of the life within us. We can’t describe that either. It is like a light that shines through the cracks, like a weightlessness, like a song, like a smile that is waiting for a homecoming.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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