Elisabeth Strillacci: Birthdays begin to change things

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 26, 2024

By Elisabeth Strillacci

In less than two weeks, I will celebrate 60 revolutions around our sun.

When I was 10, to live another 50 years seemed like an eternity, but I never remember thinking of people my grandparents’ age as “old.”

Because to me they never were. I was aware of changes to their faces and bodies, but never to their personalities. They were always so curious, spirited and engaged with the world and one another. They were always learning and growing. So they never seemed old to me.

I hope I have been lucky enough to live the same way. I think I have.

I confess sometimes I don’t recognize the person looking back at me from the mirror, and my once intensely dark hair is highlighted with white. But I’m not really bothered by those changes. It’s a fact of life and part of this journey. I’ve earned a few curves and wrinkles and even white hair.

But looking back in recent days, I’ve been thinking of a phrase I’ve often lived by. “The rearview mirror is so much smaller for a reason. You’re not going that way. The windshield is wide and large because that’s where you’re headed.”

But that’s not entirely true anymore. At this point, more of my life is behind me than in front of me.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still curious and still eager to learn. But it does mean that I grow nostalgic.

It also means I am looking back and learning even from the past.

I behaved differently in the past than I would today, in large part because experience has been a wonderful educator.

I find I am softer, kinder, gentler and more forgiving than I was even at 40 with those I love.

But I also find I am far less patient with nonsense and with trivial things than I was just 10 years ago.

Life has become, as it does, more precious, and I am less willing to waste time on things, or people, that bring me stress or hurt.

I am no longer interested in “fitting in,” because I know who I am and what I am capable of, and the judgment of others no longer matters.

I am sad that I am just learning to savor things that I should have savored in my youth, but that, too, has come with age.

And I am savoring, enjoying, trying to stretch out the moments that I let slip by in years past.

Perhaps most of all I am doing that with my now adult children. I think back to their childhoods, when my work and their school and all the activities of life got in the way of cherishing each moment. I admit that I get teary sometimes thinking back on moments that I knew were so special, but did not have the time or energy to make more than quick note of.

I know there’s not a parent in this world who does not, at some point, feel this way, and I also know there’s little to be done about it.

But I wish, in these years, I could go back and change a few things.

Instead, I am trying to let that drive me to saying the kind thoughts, the compliments, the encouraging words, when they come. I am trying to give the hugs when the moment arises and not hold back. I am trying to show the love and admiration and tenderness I feel when it hits me, and stop worrying about whether or not its appropriate.

Because after I’m gone, and I trust that is still many years away, the opportunities will be well and truly lost.

So, I’m saying “I’m proud, I’m here, you’re wonderful, well done, yes I have time for lunch,” and most of all, “I love you,” because I want those in my world to have those memories to hold on to when I’m not here anymore to say it. I don’t want them to wonder. I want them to know.

I’m not yet feeling old, and I hope I never will. But I’m reaching the point where looking back can sometimes be as essential as looking forward, and can guide me in the direction I choose.

May each of your birthdays this year be a memory you, too, will cherish.

Elisabeth Strillacci is former editor of the Salisbury Post.