“Well Worn, Minus Rough Edges”


I concede that we live in a youth-oriented world; nevertheless, it troubles me that “old” and “aging” seem to be uncomplimentary terms to many these days. It’s a subject that all too often is swept under the rug. Among other hobbies, I love working crossword puzzles.

The other night I needed a six-letter word meaning “old.” It came out “senile,” and I was furious. In no way does “old” mean “senile.” Old is well worn, minus rough edges. Old is experience. Old is tolerance and understanding.

I have known about “old” for many, many years. Maybe forever! My beloved mother was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis for eight long years. Arthritis never kills; it was cancer that finally claimed her. But while she lived, Mother was an inspiration to all who knew her. The beauty of her countenance, her patience, cheerfulness, and tolerance amazed us all.

After she was gone, I took some courses in nursing during World War II because I needed to make a living. My children were grown, and I found myself in California caring for the elderly as a geriatric nurse. Those many years were filled with joy and sorrow. I had a habit of “adopting” my patients, and I have never forgotten some of the old darlings. I was in my fifties when I started my career, and most of my patients were seventy or more. I learned about “old” from them, too.

Now I am old, very old—in my eighties. However, I believe I am a different kind of old than many seniors I have known. My dear mother is responsible for that. “My little girl,” she once said to me, “I know life is difficult for you. But it will be better. Maybe your hair will turn gray, maybe your body will bend and your step become halt. But darling, your heart only grows up to maturity. After that, it never ages.”

As she implied, I waited quite a spell before my life got better. But the older I became, the more I was aware of the twenty-two-year-old living in my heart.

That young person has become more and more demanding as time has passed. She is quite loud at times. She hates the broken-down cage she lives in. If I tackle a painting, a poem, or any kind of craft, and feel I have overstepped my bounds, my twenty-two-year-old self screams at the top of her lungs, and the only way to appease her is to finish the project I started. If the result isn’t earthshaking, she doesn’t complain; but I’m sure she smiles smugly for getting her way. Of course, when she yells, I am the only one who hears her—but at times she deafens me.

I think of my twenty-two-year-old as a gift from the Lord, and bless my mother for helping me find her. Maybe your boy or girl person is younger than mine. I chose twenty-two because she is mature enough not to ask me to do the impossible. When I said my hands were too sore and painful to ever wrap any more hangers, you should have heard her protest. So I made hangers—300 of them. And I’m proud to say they have all been given away.

It took me a while to realize that my heart person, my inner-self, is the same one who warned me of dangers in my youth. Even then she was loud enough to be heard. I wish I had always listened.

The severe arthritic pain I experience is constant, and I confess that I complain quite often. I resent the pain, and I feel unduly punished. But “twenty-two” soon puts my thoughts to rest. My morning and evening prayers are times of thanksgiving for the untold blessings our Heavenly Father bestows upon me and mine. When twenty-two and I do the best we can, he gives us direction.

Brigham Young said we should pray as if everything depended on the Lord, then work as if it all depended on us. That includes us older ones, and don’t forget it. We must still pay our dues. Believe me, I have stumbled and botched up many undertakings I started with high hopes. But then, after I’ve had a good cry, twenty-two insists, “Start again!”

Old can mean compromise, frustration, and daily trials; but it need not mean the end of hopes and dreams. There is no use sitting home feeling sorry for yourself because you feel unwanted. Get acquainted with the young person living in your heart; that one will keep you busy! We all have one. The name of your heart lodger is Faith, Hope, Charity, and Love. If you have been ignoring your special boarder, it’s not too late to start listening.

Dear young people of the Church, I hope you will each listen to your special heart person. We who have been on the tree of life for so long love you dearly. In turn, we need your love. We all need each other. Much sooner than you think, you will take our place. We need to know we are not forgotten.

I’m most grateful that the rust of time has not atrophied my mind. Young and old, well and halt, may we all rejoice together in sharing our talents and wisdom, thus doing our share in building up God’s kingdom here on earth.

“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” (D&C 64:33.)

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

Dorothy M. Hellberg, mother of four, lives in Logan, Utah.