Late last week Eminem dropped a surprise album that was appropriately titled Kamikaze. In the album, he rips at all of the people who didn’t like his last album and thought he had fallen off. In his 40’s, Eminem is clearly an older person in rap, which is nothing if not a young man’s game. For the better part of 20 years Marshall Mathers has been spitting fire, dropping cringy verses, and demonstrating himself as someone who cannot be ignored nor easily brushed aside, someone with a thin skin and some compelling technique when it comes to withering invective. From time to time I have had a bit to say about him here , and in general I have had a lot of good things to say. One thing is pretty clear, though, and that is that Eminem is not becoming a gracious elder statesman in his field, like Snoop Dogg, but instead he is becoming that sort of crotchety old man who menacingly waves a gun and tells bratty children to get off of his yard. Unfortunately, though, that is the choice faced by all people as they get older.
Although I am by no means old myself–I am in my late 30’s as I write this–I feel very old. As I sit here and type this out, for the second time this year my knee has more or less suddenly blown up on me and left me to limp around because of what appears like a meniscus tear. This recurring problem is only one of three serious leg and foot problems I have had to deal with this year, including a painful bout of cellulitis on my left foot and my usual intermittent struggle with gout. I say this not to complain, but to point out that although I am not very advanced in years I live in a great deal of pain. It is not the age that makes aging so difficult, but rather one’s health and the state of one’s life. Being single and with a poor constitution (obviously), getting older has not been a great deal of fun, and from what I can see around me there are plenty of people who feel the same way themselves. Unless we die very young, we will all suffer the ravages of aging and dealing with bodies that were clearly not meant to last. Aging is not an option for many of us.
What is an option, though, is how we age. Do we take out the suffering of our existence on others, or do we seek to behave kindly and justly even when we are not feeling very well? This is admittedly not easy to do. We may look far more put together than we feel, and unless we are having a particularly bad day, others may not notice how poorly we feel as we hobble about with our various struggles. Since other people are not generally observant about what we struggle with, they will not generally accept it as legitimate if we take out our pains and frustrations on those who are (at least mostly) blameless. Aging gracefully is about transcending the pains we feel and the losses we suffer and being kind and considerate to others, leveraging our experience as wisdom and insight and not using the way we feel as an excuse to threat others poorly. Doing so requires a great deal of restraint and a great deal of patience in dealing with others and ourselves–especially because many of us would like to do things that we are unable to do. The life we have to work with is the life that we have. Becoming embittered by our circumstances only makes it more difficult to do what needs to be done on this earth, namely build character and develop relationships with God and others. Everything else aside from those things will vanish anyway, and will not survive us into the world to come.
We might think aging gracefully is no important matter at all. Yet aging gracefully is of more importance than we think, because the same resistance to bitterness and ability to handle frustrations and difficulties that allow us to deal with the reduced capabilities that often happen when we age and the aches and pains that greet us many days allow us to overcome a great many other problems as well. Aging gracefully means not being held back by the past, but accepting the present for what it is, even if we would prefer it to be different. The same sort of approach that allows us to age gracefully with our bodies allows us to overcome ancestral struggles, the horrors of our own life and the experiences we have dealt with, and the broken relationships that we acquire as readily and painfully as the broken bodies we live with. To be sure, such things are not always easy to deal with gracefully, but little that is worthwhile is easy, or else it would be so common that no one would appreciate it. As is so often the situation in our lives, that which we deal with in our own private struggles with bodies that fail us help us with a past that has failed us or other people who, frail in their own ways, have failed as us as well. We may as well develop the character we need from the experiences we have, even if they occur far earlier than we would expect and in ways we would rather not deal with.
 See, for example: