Last week I got hearing aids. This week I took all the dark color out of my hair. Shifts like these need to be given thought. I had considered them for quite awhile. 


Birthdays at any age can give us pause. They can be a time of reflection. Turning eighty this year was significant.  It was time to make some changes.  And yet that inner sense of self remains.  An initial spark continues to unfold into different forms from babyhood to elderhood.


How do we embrace life, especially as we age?


I wonder.


Questions like these always send me to poets. They touch the soul of inquiry and do it so, well poetically. Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award among other honors. She died at age 83 in 2019. Her words are often illuminating and a wake-up call. She invites us to engage deeply with life.



By Mary Oliver

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened. Or not.

I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years, none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime.


Oliver’s last line of poetry refers to the poet Keats. He was 25 years old in 1821 when he died of tuberculosis. She is saying no matter how long we live; it is a lifetime. It is ours to claim and create along with the twist life takes.


We face quite a different situation than Keats did. Measuring from 1900 to 2000, life expectancy grew by 30 years. Today’s 60-year-old has a better than 50 percent chance of reaching ninety.


A new stage of life has emerged. We humans have yet to explore what opportunities come with these added years. Researchers have labeled it the “Third Age.” This is a time to slow down, to feel and to hear what truly has meaning for you. This third age can be a valuable time for introspection and spiritual growth.


Being an Elder is okay with me. Ironically, being old is not. Maybe that is because old is a chronological event. Becoming an Elder is about attitude. As an Elder, I give back to my community, teach wisdom gleaned through experiences, and share my joy of continuing to grow.


Seeing your hair color change over the years allows for a gradual transition. Turning gray in four hours is shocking. I am not a woman of great patience. This salon process seemed like the way to go. Yet days later, surprise still grabs me as I glimpse my image. Who is that woman looking back at me?


Mary Oliver’s poem has another provocative line. “Do you need a little darkness to get you going?”  This line reflects an uncomfortable fact. Visitations of darkness cause us to look for meaning. Struggles slow us down. They can awaken us. Aging brings challenges. Bodies change. Roles change. We lose friends and loved ones. We consider our own death.


Difficulties that arise as we age may just be the darkness we need to “get going.”  Where are we going? We are learning to embrace change: wrinkles, gray hair, and loss. Now we can explore that unchanging spark of self that has been with us from the beginning. 


How do we that?


With compassion, curiosity and gratitude