“By God! I don’t Know!” – A Post on Aging


We were sitting Kurdish style on the floor, a kerosene stove pumping out heat to keep us warm in the solid concrete building, when the subject of age came up. We were all in good spirits after enjoying a hearty meal of Yaprak, assorted vegetables stuffed with rice and meat and cooked in a lemon sauce, and had begun to drink hot, sweet tea. In Kurdistan, it is not rude to ask someone their age. First it was our host telling us how old he was, then it came to my husband and myself. The younger members of the family all chimed in – 18, 21, 23, 33, 28 – the numbers were called out like a Bingo game at a Catholic Church hall. Finally it was the mom of the house. “How old are you?” said one of her sons. We all looked at her, waiting expectantly.

“By God! I don’t know!” She said. We burst out laughing. I repeated the words after her in Kurdish, marveling at them and wanting to memorize the phrase. The conversation quickly turned to much more important things, like the weather and when the pregnant daughter-in-law would give birth, but I kept on thinking about her response.

What a great response to the question of age! Age is so fickle and so contrary. Time is already a cruel dictator, why must age also be? This woman might not have known her age, but she sure knew that it didn’t matter. “By God! I don’t know!” So many things were said in that one statement!

It doesn’t matter!

Let’s get on with it!

Who cares?

Let’s talk about something else!

It’s just age!

There are a million ways to interpret that one statement!

I turned 59 years old yesterday. Unlike my new friend, I do know how many years I’ve lived. 59 years around the sun. 59 years of trying to figure out what this life is all about. 59 years of growing and hurting and laughing and loving. 59 years of eating, sleeping, and participating in the mundane of life, only to learn that none of it is really mundane – it’s all sacred.

59 years of learning to forgive and working to live at peace. 59 years of learning that discontentment creates far more wrinkles than the sun and envy rots the soul. 59 years of learning the value of friendship and family. 59 years of learning how to live out of abundance not scarcity. 59 years of laughter and joy, 59 years of sadness and tears.

I have birthed five babies on three continents and watched them grow into young adults with their own dreams and sadness and joy. I have lived in four different countries and learned to count to ten and bargain in several different languages. I have hurt people and people have hurt me. I have loved people and people have loved me. I have had days where my stomach ached with laughter and other days where my heart ached with tears. And the days have turned into years and they have both slipped away – sometimes with a lot of drama and other times quietly, like a background person in a television show. You see them, and then they’re gone.

Last night, after birthday cake and a sweet offering of presents from my husband, we watched a couple of episodes of a television show that we have been following during this rainy, Kurdish winter. During a dream sequence, the grandmother in the show is talking to the mom who died two years previously. She is talking about getting older. As they sit companionably on a twin bed in the grandmother’s bedroom, she contemplates aging.

The days slip under the closet and disappear.

Shtisel

These words describe so well the journey of aging. You blink and the days have gone under the closet, never to be retrieved. Unlike dust balls that gather unwanted but always present, the days turn into years and disappear. They slip under the closet and into the memories that each us have, creating tapestries of people, events, and conversations, each tapestry as unique as its owner’s fingerprints.

This past year has taught me much about faith, advocacy, resilience, hope, and joy. I have learned and I have grown. And then just like that, it slipped under the closet and disappeared.  

11 thoughts on ““By God! I don’t Know!” – A Post on Aging

  1. Happy birthday! My son’s 21st birthday was the same day as yours. I’ve been thinking much about the passing of time, longing to cling to a corner of it and keep it in my possession, but realizing it’s not mine to hold. It marches on so quickly. So thank you for this beauty. I cried through it.

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  2. I loved this post. As I read it, I got to wondering when we stop being afraid we’ll never grow up to when we start fearing there aren’t enough days left to experience the adventure that is life? I want it to continue forever. Maybe your friend felt the same way and her age didn’t matter. What an excellent answer. I am 56. I wish you a happy birthday (and happy new year of life).

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  3. “…the days turn into years and disappear. They slip under the closet and into the memories that each us have…” Ain’t it the truth? I love that expression – the years slip under the closet and disappear. My husband and I have had a recurring conversation about aging, over the past few months. He and I are going through some aging stuff. (Among which are colonoscopies. Mine was clean! My husband’s is coming up in a week.) My older brother died last month (complications of diabetes…he did not take care of himself). I have another birthday later this week. 57 years.

    I don’t feel really old. Ten years ago, when my children would tell me I was old, I would respond, “I’m not old. Aunt Bernice is old, and she’s twice as old as I am.” But now, my aunt has died. My dear brother has, too. And my husband and I are left asking, “Are we getting old?” Bittersweet.

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    1. ChaplainEliza I have read your comments for years and never felt moved to reply until now. You are not OLD at 57! Some days I wish I could just be 60 or 65 again just for a day – I would get so much done! But here I am at 90 with many more days and years gone away under that closet than you have. After my mother died at 89 and her sister the following year, my younger sister looked at me and said,”This makes us the older generation you know.” This season is a part of life for all of us whom God allows to live to really old age. We let some things go, lots of things actually, but there are so many great blessings, so much to thank the Lord for, still so much joy. I am sorry for the loss of your brother. May you find comfort in good memories. And may the Lord bless you with many more fruitful years.
      And as for colonoscopies, if you live to 75 or 80, they will tell you not to get them anymore. If you are not high risk, there are more dangers than benefits after you get old!

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      1. Thanks so much for your loving reply. (My sisters and I had that same conversation about being the older generation at the memorial service for my last uncle–Dad’s brother–a year and a half ago.) Yes, I serve a small congregation that has a bunch of members over 80. They always laugh when I talk (admittedly, sparingly) about creeping arthritis and aging. I am the youngest of six, and the youngest cousin of 19, so I’m surrounded with older relatives…and with stories of their aches and pains and several have already passed, including my brother (complications from diabetes, which he did not take care of…)
        May God bless you, every day, and give you much joy!

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  4. Dearest Marilyn, this is one of your best and I love the phrase about the days slipping away under the closet. Having attained to this advanced age of 90, I mostly feel surprised that I am still here! And I feel the days slipping away thankful God has them numbered and that He holds a future beyond my imagination.

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  5. Marilyn, well defined! Very interested in the subject of aging, I am always picking up tidbits here and there. You’ve added my collection. I’ll quote a couple I’ve recently found. Oliver Wendell Holmes had this to say: “To be seventy years (or 59*) young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.” Margaret Wilbur I don’t know but she wrote this: “Never lose sight of the fact that old age needs so little but needs that little so much.” And this one I love but don’t know who said it: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why we call it the PRESENT.” Yes, the years do slip away, very quickly. “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    * my insertion

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  6. I love that remark as well! I will be turning 69 and still work full time in human services. I travel abroad often to work with refugees in camps and their apartments as they migrate. I feel so young and have energy of a 30 something. But today I get my first cataract operation and my age is something I’m thinking about. I’ll feel differently tomorrow I’m sure.

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