I saw a special on the television about Westerns and aging gracefully several years ago. The narrator interviewed stars from the old Western cowboy shows. They shared their memories and experiences during their shows.
As a young girl, I grew up watching these brave, daring, rescuers of every maiden, settler, or family member with their wisdom or “daring do.” Western/Cowboy shows like Rawhide, Wagon Train, Rifleman, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Maverick and so many more thrilled me as a kid. So I was totally happy to see pieces from those very shows on this program.
Seeing the actors and actresses as they were in those old days was so wonderful: tall, handsome or beautiful; wise in the ways of handling bad guys. Or for the female actresses being beautiful (or as with Barbara Stanwick on Big Valley) matronly, beautiful and tough, able to adapt to the “man’s world” of the West!
The narrators spoke of how these shows addressed such problems as racism and even laid the groundwork to interracial understanding. Rosie Greer, famous African-American football player, played a freed slave; Ed Amos, played Mingo, Daniel Boone’s Native American partner; and Henry Darrow was a Hispanic actor. We saw people of races we really didn’t know very well back then. By the end of each show everybody stayed young and got along and everyone learned a lesson.
These shows also helped us address some of our own problems. All of the shows dealt with some drama, tragedy, love interest, comedy, adventure, challenge, wound or disease they had to deal with. Many episodes showed us father-son relationships such as the one between Ben Cartwright and his sons on Bonanza.
There were a few deaths of good characters but these were quickly forgotten in the next episode. James Arness, as Matt Dillon, avoided shooting the bad guy when possible, teaching us to save the killing or wounding for a last resort and try to talk to the bad guys first, or outsmart them. As young people, we learned much from these fictitious characters about dealing with life. Then there was John Wayne, well, need I say more?
I also learned a lesson from watching some of these aged actors as they spoke fondly of their characters and shows. I had just seen clips from their shows, made fifty or more years ago, when they were young and handsome or beautiful. Now they were aged, wrinkled, elderly or in poor health. They had grown old.
Most of these aging actors I recognized; a few I would never have known who they were. Where had the handsome/beautiful stars gone? Their faces and bodies had changed with the ravages of time, stress, weight gain and whatever else happens as we age. I wanted to remember them the way they were!
Sure they are older now, but why did they have to grow old and change? Give me back my old heroes as they were! Then I realized a valuable lesson. We can still learn from these old cowboys: “We will all get old; if we don’t get old, then we died young!”
We will all get wrinkles! We will all gain some weight! We will all look older as we get older. (No matter how long or hard we fight it!!) No matter how much makeup, hair coloring, exercise, or whatever, we will get old someday, (hopefully)! Sure we would all like to maintain our youthful glow or strength but we will eventually change.
There are several alternatives: we can exercise our butts off, trying to maintain that girlish/manly figure; we can hide wrinkles with excessive make up; color our hair to our youthful colors, or wear a toupee; or deny it and fight aging tooth and nail. Some people age well and look great at eighty, some do not. Or we can accept that the aging process is part of life and let it happen as healthily as we can.
The truth is, when we are eighty, hopefully we won’t be worried about how beautiful or handsome we are? (I am not saying to let ourselves get run down or look like a hermit!) We will have something much more important to offer the world than temporary external beauty.
We will have a lifetime full of experience and wisdom that we can share with whomever chooses to listen. We will hopefully have learned how to love ourselves better, (having finished with our teenage angst); learned to deal with problems (having survived the newness of being a newlywed); learned how to handle stress (after making a marriage work and raising children and paying the big bills).
So let us accept aging for what it is. It is inevitable. It is part of the cycle of life. It is a new episode in the bigger adventure of life. It is a time of still being active and enjoying life and seeing and learning the deeper beauty in life as we slow down, (yes we will all slow down eventually, no matter how fast we can run at sixty.) It is a time to remember; heal lingering wounds; share memories with our families and friends; and prepare for the next stage of life.
Our lives are our own show, on which others will look back and think of us as we were when we were young, but hopefully they will also think back on us the way we were when we were older.
Hopefully, we gave them an example of wisdom, love, patience, integrity, hard work, perseverance, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, joy and thankfulness. Hopefully our lives will be viewed and loved by our children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren but in a more realistic and wonderful way than my cowboy heroes were viewed by me as a little kid.
We hopefully will attain a degree of peace in our lives. That peace transcends all the physical changes we will experience. Maybe we can be an example to our children and grandchildren to show them what is really important in life.
The love of our family, friends, neighbors, country and our God are what is truly important. Those are what we need to show and share with those we love and know. Therein lies the good things about aging. We can help others to know and learn and enjoy this life and repeat the cycle in a healthier and wiser way as they become our age.