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A Season of Ripening

by Sherry Ruth Anderson

When a growing season is long enough for fruits to mature, we can call it a season of ripening. Our species has entered this season now—a time when we have a never before chance to grow up beyond what most of us have barely imagined. Have you thought about this? Dreamed into it for yourself or for our common good, for the pure wisdom and loving kindness that might develop in our world? And if you wonder about what is possible for us now, do you want to pursue the possibilities? To delve into the deep questions this ripening season opens?

Personally, I find it a great relief to dump the usual, politically correct, words for aging—elderhood, senior citizens, golden agers—and all the horrid ones I won’t even bother with here—to consider the possibilities of ripening. Those other words are so stale, used up, and misused that they trap my imagination in a thousand musty certainties. So I started searching around for something fresh and finally found ripening. It’s from the Old English reopan, dating back ten centuries to the root verb to reap.

It lets us reframe the perspective about growing old to ask: What can we reap from a long life if we are conscious, if we pay attention, if we care?

My big Webster’s that sits on its own table next to the computer reads like a guidebook to the possibilities of the ripening season. To ripen is to be fully grown and developed, as in ripe fruit and ripe wheat, it says. And also: having mature knowledge, understanding or judgment. And a third meaning: of advanced years, as in a ripe old age. And my favorite: (a) brought by aging to full flavor or the best state, mellow; and (b) smelly, stinking, as in ripe cheese.

This sums it up pretty well, don’t you think? The promise—to come to our full flavor as human beings, to mature into the best possibilities of our nature. And the reality—the full flavor of living a long life isn’t just mellow. It’s also smelly, stinking.

Growing old is an adventure, but it’s no stroll through the rose garden, no “grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”

Whoever believes that is living in Disneyland. To ripen—not just grow up but to keep on maturing through our entire lives—takes great courage and great vulnerability. And I guess I’d have to add, a huge dollop of grace. We can end up unripe, bitter, not able to reap the fruits of this life because overwhelming circumstances make us lose hope, or because we get tangled in our culture’s stories and lies about aging. Or maybe we end up losing hope because dementia—our parents’ or our partner’s or our own—in one of its many dreadful forms throws a pall over all the possibilities, shutting off our curiosity and spirit for living into the truth of our life as it is unfolding.

There are no guarantees. Yet there’s the likelihood for us, as there is for all of life, that we can fully mature if our possibilities are nurtured and cultivated. Ripening, in other words, is natural.

We should expect it. And also, we should look with a sceptical eye on the odd but common assumption that all our growth is over by, say, thirty. I hereby throw down the gauntlet against that careless assumption. I propose that, since we do not know what reaches and dimensions of our humanity are possible as we age, we engage the question. All the questions—whatever we can discover about how we can grow old consciously. We already know too much about what diminishes—hearing, eyesight, short-term memory, speed of recall and calculation, and so on.

That is not so interesting. But to consider what grows, what develops, what ripens—that, I propose, is interesting indeed!

Sherry Ruth Anderson writes and teaches about spiritual development, with a special interest in women's experience and aging as awakening. Her books include "The Feminine Face of God" and "The Cultural Creatives," and her recent documentary is "A Woman's Descent to the Sacred." She lives in Novato, California. Her website is: http://sherryruthanderson.com

Ripening Time - Inside Stories for Aging with Grace, Sherry Ruth Anderson, publishing October 2013 by Changemakers Books. Paperback ISBN: 978-1-78099-963-0 | $14.95 | £8.99 | 8.5x5.5 inches | 216x140 mm | 173PP eBook EISBN: 978-1-78099-962-3 | $9.99 | £6.99

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