When a good friend sent me this picture:
I was reminded of something my late husband once said: “It’s only when I look in the mirror that I see how much I’ve aged. Inside I feel the same as I’ve always felt.”
Have you had a similar experience? I certainly have. But how do we interpret it or is an explanation even possible? This story may provide clues.
In a cozy living room little Emma sat cross-legged on the soft carpet, her eyes wide with curiosity as she looked up at her Grandma Rose nestled in a favorite armchair by the fireplace. The fire cast a warm glow on her grandmother’s kind, wrinkled face.
“Grandma,” Emma began, her voice filled with innocence, “what’s it like to be old? Really old?”
Grandma Rose’s gaze reflected her sincere affection. “Well, sweetheart, I suppose I am really old now at eighty-seven, but even before this, someone asked me what it was like to know that most of my life was over. I thought about that for a long time.”
Emma’s face showed she was listening closely.
“I told them that, in my heart, I don’t count years. The voice inside me doesn’t grow old, Emma,” Grandma Rose explained. “The voice inside you won’t grow old either. You’ll always be the same girl just like I’ve always been the same girl – your great-grandma’s daughter.”
“Great Grandma Lily?” Emma asked.
“Yes, that’s right. Thinking about the future getting shorter and shorter as I look ahead …well, as I said, I don’t see things that way anymore.”
“But you did grow old, Grandma,” Emma pointed out with a puzzled expression.
“Indeed I did, my dear,” Grandma Rose nodded. “I watched my body age, my hearing and eyesight grow dull, but the person inside, the spirit, the voice that has always been there, has never changed. That led me to realize that we continue somehow, though I cannot explain it in words exactly. It’s a different way of knowing. You feel it in your heart.”
Emma pondered Grandma Rose’s words, her young mind reaching to comprehend.
“So,” Grandma Rose continued tenderly, “the next time you see an elderly person, try to look beyond their slow, uneven gait, and realize that their inside voice is ageless, like yours and mine, like everyone’s.”
Emma nodded pensively. “I’ll remember that, Grandma. Our spirit is forever.”
Grandma Rose smiled, the depth of her expression revealing fondness and wisdom. “Yes, and we must love and respect that spirit, that voice, Emma. And when we do, we’re peaceful and content. We’re at home. We belong.”
As little Emma did, the young naturally ask existential questions. We did also as children. Then for most of us as adults our attention and focus were overwhelmingly occupied with maintaining a livelihood, raising a family, caring for our relatives and friends, and creating and accepting our own personal narrative, formed by cultural prescriptions, as the core representation of who we believe ourselves to essentially be.
We Sixty-and-Me-ers now have the good fortune to revisit the answers we were given (and maybe unquestioningly accepted in childhood) and the personal narrative.
Different from the inner critic that calculates, reasons, sorts, and compares based on facts and intellectual considerations – all necessary for practical application – the inner voice is heart-centered, as Grandma Rose tried to explain to her granddaughter, rather than brain-centered and therefore is not as easily defined.
Poetically, we could say that the inner voice, the spirit, is the very Energy of Life – that which connects us to everything else – and that reason is feedback, to borrow a turn of phrase from the great Alan Watts.
But again, all this is simply a linguistic attempt to express the ineffable, which can be felt and fully known when one attunes to the inner voice of one’s own heart.
How old is your inner voice? Has it always been that age? What big, existential questions do you think about these days?