ImageIf you’ve ever watched “The Cooking Channel”, you’ve probably heard the term “reduction cooking”. This culinary process involves heating a liquid such as a stock or a sauce on the stove, uncovered. As the mixture simmers, various ingredients will evaporate at different rates allowing the remaining flavors and ingredients to become more concentrated.

In life, this process is not unlike “trial by fire.”

All of us experience trials of some sort, some of us certainly more than others. Many of us have lost partners and seen the break-up of marriages. We’ve lost homes and incomes and insurance. We’ve had health scares. We’ve lost parents and children.

We’ve lost much of ourselves, too, but were usually too busy to notice…

I don’t have to tell you this is a scary place, but what I do want to assure you is that there is no need to be afraid. This process of “trial by fire” has a secret and often overlooked component. In the midst of having to give up so many false forms of security, we’ve found surprising strength in places we didn’t even know we had. We have discovered an inner resilience, the ability to learn and excell at new skills, the ability to take a situation at face value. We have found that even stripped of much that we hold precious, we are still standing, only a little worse for wear. We’ve found support from all four corners of our lives because during those years we were serving on committees, dropping by food when someone was sick, babysitting a friend’s kid- we were really building relationships that have nothing to do with the business of life but everything to do with our own foundation.

Still, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enter this new phase of my life greatly humbled and a little disappointed. I thought by now I’d have it all together. Surely, my 401-K would have another digit. Couldn’t I at have at least maintained my lifetime membership in Weight Watchers? Shouldn’t I have learned to wash the dishes as I go rather than letting them pile up in the sink? As a respectable adult, wouldn’t I floss my teeth every single night? Somehow, I thought I would have acomplished so much more by now. I thought I would be so much “better”.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she questioned the wisdom of our desire to grow up into those stereotypical versions of older age, you know- the “old and wise”-  that we thought we were supposed to. I mean, sure, we need our 401-K’s and our teeth but does some of the stuff in between really matter?

What if the secret to growing old is really growing ourselves young? Remaining vital is willing ourselves to stay vulnerable, to stay silly, to continue to love and have faith in the hard parts and to not take life too seriously? I mean it is “life” and when it’s not, it just isn’t anymore. Maybe in our ideas about growing older, we have it all wrong. 

How do we grow young?

I can tell you by what I’ve seen. We endure. We discover we can adapt. We go on. 

I’ve seen a new beauty emerge in my friends. It’s not the same type of beauty as when we were young and had unblemished skin, flat tummies and breasts that didn’t sag.  This is a reduction cooking type of beauty. An essential and deeper beauty that leaves behind the extraneous and radiates outward like a tall strong tree in the forest, a weathered rock, the scent of fresh cucumber and grated ginger, and a sunrise. It’s a glow that comes from within.

It has nothing- and everything- to do with the temperature.