“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”  Max Ehrmann, Desiderata.

There’s an age spot on the back of my left hand.

I find it amusing, really. It’s a pale, tiny thing, as if it knows it’s new and is afraid to assert itself. This little speck reminds me of a hand stamp at a festival – you may now enter middle age.

Ever since my 50th birthday a few years ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about this phenomenon called aging, taking note of the changes that come with the package. For example, gravity is somehow much more powerful now as everything seems to be sliding downward. I can still hear a pin drop next door but I can’t read a darned thing without my glasses anymore. Body parts that were once maintenance-free are sometimes stiff and cranky for no good reason.

I recently had to see a specialist to evaluate a mysterious pain in my right wrist. At random intervals it literally locks up on me, sending a stream of fire down to my fingers and rendering my wrist immobile. It is unbelievably painful. The first time this happened I thought it was dislocated. My primary care physician thought it was a nerve disorder. After an EMG performed by Dr. Frankenstein, I learned it is not a nerve problem.

It’s arthritis.

At first I was really happy to get a diagnosis. After all, I’d been struggling with this malady for years and had no idea what caused it. And then it hit me: OMG! I have arthritis. Old people get arthritis. How could this happen to me?

When I’m on my yoga mat in the privacy of my home, I feel strong, flexible and vital. My body sings. I stretch and move, my heart expanding more and more with every breath. Yes, this is how I always want to feel, completely at home in my body.

However, when I am on this very same mat in a sea of other people in a yoga class, I feel differently. My back doesn’t bend as much as it once did. Women two decades my junior are dressed in tiny yoga pants and skimpy tanks that I’d love to wear if they could contain my, um, femininity. There was a time when I jumped around in a vinyasa class, but I just don’t have that energy level anymore, and besides, it’s hard on my joints.

It took some time for me to understand this new reality and find a sense of acceptance, and even appreciation. Because I really don’t want to sweat my way through a vigorous yoga class anymore. I want to allow stretches to unfold gently. I want to hold challenging poses a little longer and notice how my body and mind react. I want to slow down and savor every pose.

I want to slow down and savor my life.

Some people say they dread having birthdays. I’ve never understood that. No birthdays means you’re dead! I’m grateful for every single birthday I get and I plan to celebrate them all with candles that set off the smoke alarms. I’m happy to be 54. I’d never trade the wisdom I’ve gained for the 25-year-old body I’ve lost.

My dark brown hair is sprinkled with silvery strands. I like them. Each is hard-won. The laugh lines around my eyes and mouth stay there when I stop laughing, and I don’t really mind. They show the world that I’ve laughed a lot over the years.

Life leaves its marks on all of us. The most important ones can’t be seen. My mind has opened as I’ve come to understand how very much I still don’t know. My heart is softer and more expansive with every dear one I gather into it. It’s been broken many times but miraculously hasn’t lost its capacity to love again.

My soul is free. And it never grows old.