Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.—Proverbs 16:31
I have spent a lot of time around the elderly—in our family, at our church, and at the nursing home where I once did pet therapy and evangelism. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine them young and vigorous and at their peak.
But we are seeing these old souls during only one small window of their lives, a window that is rapidly closing. We don’t see all that came before. Remember that their past is our present; their present is our future.
The next time you look upon an elderly woman, I want you to imagine her telling you . . .
I was young once. As a girl, I remember playing dodgeball with the neighborhood boys, my hair bow the only thing distinguishing my dirty face from theirs. My mother thought that was improper, so she signed me up for dance classes. I hated my leotards, and my ballet shoes were useless for dodgeball, but I eventually learned something: I really loved to dance, and I was good at it.
I was also good at English and piano and Latin, and I was good with my hands. My mother taught me how to knit and sew, and we would make all our Christmas gifts by hand.
I always loved to laugh, and I loved to tell jokes. Sometimes I would play pranks on people. People would tell me they couldn’t help but laugh when I laughed.
One day as I was laughing, I caught sight of a young man smiling while watching me. His eyes were kind and his smile, genuine. He became my first love, one who would always have a hold on my heart. But he died in the war before we could marry.
I didn’t know if I could ever love again, but I did. He was another man with kind eyes but with a shy, reserved spirit. He was strong and protective and wise, and he became a covering over me. He became my husband, and he would be the father of my children.
Sometimes I can still imagine his smell, just as I can still imagine the smell of my newborn babies as I held them against my chest. They were my very heartbeat, my greatest joy.
Do you see these lines on my forehead? They’re worry lines. Each of my children put at least one line on my head—the sicknesses, the injuries, the wanderings of rebellion. My grandchildren gave me the rest. And did you notice the weakness in my legs? I wore my knees out in endless hours of fervent prayer. Years of dancing probably didn’t help much.
But the lines around my mouth and eyes—these are laugh lines. And how much laughter we enjoyed in our house! We loved to play charades and Monopoly and cards. We loved to tell stories and build snowmen and splash in puddles. They always said I told the best stories, but I almost never won at the games.
The gray hairs came on slowly at first. The children were still at home but were already beginning to find their place in the world. Then I blinked, and they were gone. It seemed the next time I looked in the mirror, my whole head was gray, and wrinkles cropped up suddenly where smooth skin had been.
Before long, I lacked the energy to dance and splash and chase the grandchildren. My body was slowing down, but time was not. My husband, my second and most enduring love, was ushered into the loving arms of Jesus. Soon I was alone with just my memories, and they began to betray me as well.
Just yesterday, it seemed, I was young like you. You may think my day has passed. But I will not say, “In my day I did this” or “In my day I did that” because this, like all those other days that came before, is my day too. I embraced the days of my youth—the days when I was beautiful and strong and capable and funny —and I’ll embrace these days too because my life is greater than the sum of my wrinkles and gray hairs.
Your life, like mine, will march relentlessly forward, and God willing, you will someday find yourself looking in the mirror at a shadow of your former self. With so much life behind you and so little still ahead, you too will say, “I was young once.” And you will be no less valuable because of it. Remember that when you look at me.