Don’t judge this ‘ageing book’ by its slightly worn cover!

The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ has been a saying which I have always found so wise and so true, and that in judging another by what they look like on the outside or how they are behaving, we are often missing out on the truth of what is ‘written’ on the pages within. And now as I am ageing and my ‘cover’ is becoming a little more worn by the year, this saying has taken on a whole new significance.

The pattern of judging another is a horrible one and a pattern that I have been choosing to remove from my life for some time now, as I have come to see it as very harmful for all concerned. Sadly, it is a pattern which I have slipped into over the years, often without realising that I was doing so.  It was like the judgmental thought was there before I had even thought about it – that used to puzzle me; how did it appear so quickly?

I know that I have also been judged on many occasions as well and that always feels horrible in my body. In fact, I have come to realise that it feels just as horrible when I judge someone as when I am being judged. And as everything (including our thoughts) is energy, it follows that the one I am judging must be feeling my judgment at some level and that I am totally responsible for.

  • I know that I judged my parents for not understanding me as a teenager, as I considered them too old to know what life was like ‘today’; that times change, the ways of doing things change, music changes and they should too.
  • I also remembered being judged as a young mother by those who thought I should be raising my children differently, perhaps in the way they raised theirs.
  • I have also judged myself, over and over again, when I felt that I was doing something wrong, messing up once again, putting on weight and so on. I am sure we all know this one.
  • And now as I head toward my 70th birthday, there are times when I feel my ‘slightly worn cover’ is being judged by those younger than me for not being able to do some of the things I used to do, as well as not understanding what life is like today for their generation. It’s ironic how the cycle has come around and now it is me who is in my parent’s place; the elder being judged by the younger.  The never ending cycle of life.

Now for me, on a physical level I was not blessed with my mother’s flawless and youthful skin but instead inherited my father’s rather weather-beaten looks, and of course the disregarding way I lived for many years is also indelibly etched on my face. But on the inside it’s a different story, with a young vibrant and life loving woman finally learning to be at home in this ageing body. How I am on the inside is, to me, what I know to be my true essence; who I really am, and always have been, no matter how I look on the outside.

I had a moment recently when I was looking in the mirror, on a day when I wasn’t feeling the greatest, and I found myself being a little judgmental about how I looked. And as I continued to look at my reflection, I found myself beginning to wonder how others really see me.

  • Do they only see the grey hair, the sags and wrinkles or do they feel the youthfulness of the young woman shining out from within.
  • Do they see the beautiful sparkle in my eyes, or do they just see those eyelids that aren’t quite as taut as they used to be?
  • Perhaps some see me as a ‘fossil’ as did the young boy who I wrote about in a previous blog about children’s perspectives on ageing.
  • Or do they judge how I am choosing to live at this time of my life, a judgement made while not knowing the sum total of my life’s challenges and what has brought me to this place I find myself right now?

Yes, there have been lots of questions, ones I have loved delving into and one by one the answers are being revealed. And as they are, I am beginning to look at others with much wider and more understanding and compassionate eyes.

The fact is, we often do not know what the person who is standing in front of us – no matter what their age – has been through in life, unless we know them very well of course. I have come to see so clearly that if we go into judgement about what someone looks like, what they are wearing, how they are living etc., we are already building road-blocks in the way of getting to know them better, and in doing so wasting a priceless opportunity to turn the first page of their book, and to begin to understand the story of their life. And if the cover of that book is slightly, or even, very worn, there will definitely be a whole lot of life to ‘read’ which is sure to offer the opportunity to understand them a little bit more.

It’s the deepening of the understanding that I am finding so very valuable, both for me and the other person, as I have learned, when there is understanding there is no room for judgement. One of the best lessons ever.

This was really brought home to me a couple of years ago when I was supporting a then, 94 year old friend to get her life into order for when she died. This lovely lady, who I will call Elizabeth, has no family to support her so I have committed to being her family in the last phase of her life. While talking about what she wanted for a funeral I offered to organise it for her and to do the eulogy. When Elizabeth said yes to the offer I shared that even though I had known her for 20 years I really didn’t know much about her life before that and asked her to write some things down for me. She is usually quite a procrastinator so I wasn’t surprised when she initially answered – ‘there’s no rush is there?’ I must admit that I burst out laughing with her question as even though she was 94 year old she obviously was planning to stay around for a while longer…and not surprisingly, she still is, with her 97th birthday coming closer.

When I visited two weeks later I was naturally very surprised when she handed me a notebook containing a precis of her 94 years in this life. And I have to say that I was amazed at the life this seemingly reserved woman had lived. Her life was very full and rich and she had obviously enjoyed living it even though she was, in her words, terribly shy and often hid from the world.  I learned that she had no regrets about not marrying nor having children, but committed to her job as a nurse from war time to when she retired in 1977. She nursed, in a variety of specialties, in the outback of Australia and in the UK and in many areas of New Zealand. Within the many pages of the book of Elizabeth’s life, which on the surface looks very tired and worn, was the story of a very beautiful woman who brought all she was able to, to the world. But anyone looking at her in her current very frail state may not actually look past the 96 year old cover nor take the time to understand that within the pages of this historical tome there is the very real life of a fellow human being, someone who was born, has lived in her own unique way and will pass from this life, just like we all do.

Since then, while regularly visiting a family member in a rest home, I have continued to be offered so many opportunities to look at others with no judgement but with much more understanding and compassion. During these visits I have had many wonderful moments of observing dozens of my fellow human beings, ageing from their 60’s through to 100, some struggling to move their ageing bodies, some with wonderful mental faculties and others in various stages of losing touch with themselves, others and the world around them. It is so easy to see these people as they are now and to not look past their slightly worn covers, but I have come to really love taking the time to talk to them, even if they can’t answer, to look closely at them, to look deeply into their eyes and to wonder what I would read on the inner pages of their books; their life stories.

And as I do, I wonder if, when this stage of life arrives for me, whether someone will take the time to stop, to smile at me and to not judge me by my cover, no matter what shape it may be in, but instead spend a few moments connecting with me, curious about what is written on the pages lovingly encased within this fellow human being who, in their essence, is just like them.

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