June 12, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Staying young doesn’t involve plastic surgery

Cynthia DewesA Hemingway scholar once asked me why I liked to read Hemingway’s work. I thought about it and said, “Because it makes me feel young.” He nodded, knowing exactly what I meant.

Feeling young is easy for those under 30 or so, but feeling young (again) becomes harder as we age. The promise and optimism of youth tend to fade or be eclipsed by the events of life, which is why our Christian faith is so important.

Christianity is a forward-looking religion. There is always a goal, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak. When we believe in the existence of a loving God, we naturally want to be with him/her forever, even after the corporal death we know is inevitable. It is that love that keeps us young.

Little children are automatically tuned to this optimism and hope. Their charm lies in their innocent belief that they can trust others, and that every day brings new wonders. It is our job not to disabuse them of those beliefs. It continues to be our job throughout life with everyone and everything we encounter. And, sometimes, that ain’t easy.

Television, magazines and other popular media often tout the wonders of plastic surgery to retain youth. Herbal remedies, diets, exercise regimens, vitamin supplements and all manner of paths to youthful vitality are offered to us at every turn. Being young is practically imperative in American culture, while aging is often considered a disease.

June is a time when we are refreshed by nature into rediscovering youthful joy. Flowers and sunshine, warm weather and summer fun restore our faithful purpose. But if we just look around, we may find such inspiration all the time.

Recently, I saw part of an “Oprah” program about the friendships of animals: an elephant and a dog, a hippo and a cat, two female elephants looking for all the world like girlfriends anywhere.

It lifted my spirits because it was

non-sentimental proof that love triumphs, no matter where, when or with whom. True love gives life, physically and spiritually.

Animals are often instructive, but they’re not the only ones. Besides babies and little kids, we also have the example of devoted family and friends, and even “the kindness of strangers.” The Good Samaritan comes to mind.

We have other manifestations of love and goodness which keep us ever young. Some come from outside ourselves, like the animal story on “Oprah,” while some are born in us.

For instance, we’re given imagination that allows us to dream and compassion which gives us empathy to understand what others are feeling.

We have sympathy and kindness so that we can support others lovingly. We have talents such as creativity or intelligence or patience so that we may delight and serve others while fulfilling ourselves. We have aesthetic sense to appreciate the creations of God and (hu)man.

My contention is that youth is not a function of age at all, but of faith that good will triumph and that love is possible always. We don’t need to be unrealistic Pollyannas to believe it either, even when our prevailing culture sometimes denies its likelihood.

So bring on “Yesterday” sung by the Beatles, dramatic sunsets, eccentric relatives, new puppies, or baby’s first steps. Bring on the grief we know will end in joy when we meet the beloved again one day. Bring on life because, when we’re young, we can handle it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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