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Rebecca Faye Smith Galli: Are we prepared to grow older?

Sep. 01, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

Midway through his round of 18, my father stopped at the golf course clubhouse where he was introduced to a fellow golfer who was 80 years old.

After the aging golfer left, my father's golfing partner said, "He shot his age the other day."

"He shot an 80 on this course?" my father replied, stunned because the course was considered difficult on anyone's score card.

"That's right."

"Well," my father joked as they headed their carts toward the 10th hole, "maybe when I'm 80 I will shoot 80!"

His friend laughed. "Not unless you start shooting 80 right now or real soon."

Although I'm not sure my father ever shot his age -- he died at 72, I do know he had fun trying as his golf buddies would attest. But what he learned from the encounter lives on.

"Age has a way of maturing our talents," he wrote, "but it seldom makes us better at what we were never good at."

I'm not sure what all the poet meant when he said, "Come, grow old with me, the best is yet to be," but I doubt he meant we could shoot 80 in golf if we don't shoot 80 now. Age brings few new skills in its process; sometimes it is all we can do to maintain what we have. Perhaps the reality is that age matures who we are and what we do.

I thought about that process as I recalled last year's send-off of my youngest to college, 3,000 miles away from home. At first I wondered if I had prepared him enough for the transition. A good friend offered his perspective. "You've put a lot in, Becky," the father of three and grandfather of six told me. "Now it's time to see what takes hold and grows."

I was relieved -- some. I just hoped I'd put enough of the right stuff "in" that could mature into what was needed for him to adjust successfully.

Then I wondered about me. Was I prepared for him to go? Had I put enough "in" my life to adjust and keep growing -- without him?

Our kids push us in directions we never imagined. From carpools to team sports to school plays to academic quandaries to broken hearts and scrambled friendships, our lives expand to include theirs. And when they leave, so does their scaffolding.

No more back-to-school nights, teacher conferences, and carrot-or-stick decisions for keeping our kids ready for the next step. Our work, for the moment, is finished. Until they need us -- which they will -- but never in the same way as before.

As age comes upon us, perhaps there is some comfort in discovering new and hidden talents that the "daily run of duty" has kept us from cultivating. We may not be able at 80 to "shoot 80" on the golf course, but we might uncover some hibernating gifts waiting for a wake-up call.

Maybe that's the best that is yet to be.

This column was co-authored and edited by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, daughter of the late Dr. R.F. Smith Jr., a longtime columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Her e-mail address is rfsgalli@gmail.com.

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