“Our lives are a work of art that only we can create.” When I first heard that statement, I had difficulty connecting to the concept. Since I do not see myself as artistic, it is hard for me to envision life as a blank canvas with me holding a paint brush creating the scenes of my life. It is much easier for me to consider my life as a book with many blank pages to fill and chapters to write over the course of a lifetime. Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin, PhD, in his book Crafting the Soul, Creating Your Life as a Work of Art, puts it this way: “Like any other creative endeavor, creating life as a work of art requires dreams, visions, fantasies.” That said, maybe, how we visualize its creation matters little.
Consider your own unique life. What dreams, visions, or fantasies have led you to creating the life you are living? Perhaps you delight in teaching or coaching others, thus you have built a life that is focused on such dreams. Sometimes, we construct a new vision through life’s previous experiences. Now over 70, Susan realized that as a child, she had been bullied. “I never really understood what that meant until recently,” she said. “When a classmate threatened to throw me down the stairs after taunting me about my grades, school awards, and opportunities I had been given, I couldn’t relate.” Now, she views herself as a champion of those who are bullied or marginalized.
While the reality of our aging is no secret, the important question is, does it hinder our creativity in later life? Unfortunately, our culture suggests that as we age, our stories become less creative, more closed than open. When a story is closed, it implies that life is declining—there is no new learning, beliefs are concrete. Open stories, on the other hand, suggest that life is hope-filled and moving forward. The very idea of aging can diminish our capacity to move forward says Becca Levy in her book, Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live. She found that how people thought about the idea of old age was more “…important than gender, income, social background, loneliness, or functional health. Age beliefs can steal or add nearly eight years to your life,” she writes.
Rabbi Dayle Friedman in her book, Jewish Wisdom and Growing Older, offers the following that I hope you find it as meaningful as do: “Beyond midlife, we, too, can experience renewal and fruitfulness, as the Psalmist writes and I translate, ‘May we grow fruitful as we age, ripe and abundant and sage. Keep our hearts open to all we face, present to goodness, even a trace. Renew us, let our spirits soar, sustain us, our Rock, for evermore.’”
Much to ponder. I know that I want my continuing story to be open, ready to follow new dreams and passions. How about you?
Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is with age-friendly communities.