Remember when we were teenagers and we used to complain about grumpy old men and grouchy old ladies?
Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, we woke up to find that we had become them.
In a surreal and startling role reversal, we are no longer the kids who feel judged by the elderly lady sitting behind us in church. Now we are the old ladies doing the judging.
We are no longer the young person rolling our eyes as Grandpa complains yet once more about “kids these days.” Now, we are scratching our heads over kids these days, just like he did back then.
How does this happen?
The obvious answer is very simple. We get older. It’s part of life, just nature taking its course.
But is that really all it is? I actually think there might be something else going on, something that is described very vividly in this famous poem by Langston Hughes:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
When we’re young, we have this marvelous sensation that every door is open to us. We have plenty of time to open every possible door, explore each one of them, pursue our dreams wherever they might take us.
Then as we get older, we feel like our choices get ever narrower. Doors that were open are now closed. In less time than it takes to blow out a few birthday candles, the many open doors seem to have faded into one narrow passage with one clear and definitive endpoint.
And that makes us bitter and grumpy.
Did you once dream of writing and publishing a book? Of traveling? Of starting your own business? Of going back to college and starting a new career?
Sorry, you can’t. You’re running out of time.
And when we realize this, we begin to play the blame game. If only we hadn’t been forced to work so hard every day of our lives at this dead-end job just to survive. If only we hadn’t sunk all our savings into a nice house for our kids to grow up in. If only we hadn’t wasted so much of our time worrying about what other people thought of us.
The list of if onlys just goes on and on.
And as always happens when we play the “if only” game, we become resentful of those who are not following the rules we forced ourselves to adhere to.
After all, we had to work every day of our lives at a dead-end job. So the younger generation needs to pay its dues too. That’s only fair.
We sacrificed our dreams and hopes and wishes to follow society’s arbitrary rules of behavior. So why can’t they?
As with any kind of pain or regret, we feel compelled to invite others to share it.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if all of us, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, decided that dreams must no longer be deferred? What if we all decided together that our dreams, our health, our happiness, deserve something better than shrivelling in the sun or festering like a sore?
Then maybe old age would find us beaming with gentle and fruitful happiness rather than exploding or sagging with the weight of dreams deferred.
After all, didn’t God create us for a purpose? Didn’t he put those dreams inside of us for a reason?
And if we think of it that way, deferring our dreams isn’t just painful, but sinful, too.
If you feel like you’re becoming a grumpy old person, ask yourself what dream you’ve deferred. And as long as you have breath in you to do it, keep pursuing it.
While it may be risky, go back and open some of those closed doors again.
Maybe old age doesn’t have to be a narrow passageway to one clear endpoint. Maybe it’s an opportunity to breathe new life into old dreams.