I turned 83 last week.

Now that I’ve hit that landmark, it seems relatively insignificant, though some days I wonder how I got so old so quickly. Yes, I have more aches and pains. My back hurts when I walk, but most times I can do a mile or so without too much discomfort. My body fat is succumbing to gravity and my hair is thinner, but all in all I’m in pretty good shape for the shape that I’m in.

My birthday often gets lost in the hub-bub of our International Gift Festival and preparations for our Food Pantry distribution, so I was pleasantly surprised when a friend carried several balloons and a cake into the church kitchen. That was followed by a lovely Christmas cactus, cards, hugs, and well wishes. This growing older is not so bad, I thought. After all, birthdays provide a great time to remind us how much we love and value one another.

Years ago, I attended a writer’s workshop. We were an interesting conglomeration of ages, colors, shapes, and sizes. At our initial gathering, the leader handed out topics for us to write about. I was fairly surprised when this old crone rose, supporting herself on two canes and twisting her neck to look at us.

“My topic,”she quavered, “is ‘My Pet Peeve.’ My pet peeve is anyone saying you don’t look that old.” Her voice gathered volume as she tried to straighten her twisted back. “I am 95 years young. I have outlived two husbands and both of my children. I started my professional life as a social worker, went back to school to become a doctor, then a psychologist, a university professor and eventually finished as a pediatric psychiatrist.”

She twisted her gnarled body to look us in the eye. “I got bored after I finished writing my biography last year so decided to venture into a new career — writing children’s stories. As I said, my pet peeve is anyone telling me I don’t look that old. I want you all to know I’ve lived a full and vital life and I don’t want anyone selling one minute of it short.”

Once the applause died down I told myself, “that’s the way I want to grow old.”

Days when I am feeling my age, I think of her. I was in my 40s at that time and she is long gone, but I will forever be grateful for the gift she gave me that day — a blueprint for aging dynamically.

I’ve had only one professional career. Even so, I refuse to let anyone sell one minute of my life short. Thanks to her, I view all of life from the perspective of gratitude and our marriage vows. Sadly, in a time when we’re tempted to give up too easily and blame others for our mistakes, many marriage services delete the traditional vows. When my husband and I married, we spoke those words which have defined our 60 years together. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health, till death do us part. Every minute, every experience, every struggle, every failure, every illness, every venture, every relationship has been a gift.

And so, thanks to my mentor of long ago, I stand proud and grateful, knowing every minute of my 83 years has been rich and full, even when it didn’t feel so hot at the time.

Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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