I am watching the first season of The Big C on Netflix. Laura Linney stars as Cathy Jamison, a woman who has been diagnosed with a stage four melanoma. Despite its content, or perhaps because of it, the show is often funny and life affirming.
In one episode, Cathy’s family throw her a surprise birthday party. Among the guests is her aunt, a woman whose face is contorted after repeated plastic surgeries, and she brags about still buying her clothes in the junior section. As the woman leaves the party, Cathy whispers in her ear, “It’s a privilege to grow old.”
It’s a sentence that has resonated with me. On any given day, my friends and I are a little too prone to moan about our wrinkles, to check the mirrors for gray hairs, and groan that it’s harder to lose weight than it once was. We take growing old for granted and bemoan its effects.
But everyday we’re reminded that growing old is not a given. On our own campus, in the past year, we’ve lost two faculty members in their prime with so much still to give. Our students who come to this country as refugees tell stories of lives where growing old is never taken for granted because it’s not likely to happen.
I once read of a saint (whose name I’ve forgotten) who said something like he was grateful to each person he met during the day for not killing him. Now I don’t know that we could even get out of bed each morning if we constantly thought of all the things that could go wrong–from crazy people, diseases, or accidents. Still, it’s good to remember every once in a while, in the midst of complaining about the wrinkles, the aches, and the saggy spots, that indeed it is a privilege to grow old.