Old Age Is a Gift

 

At 100, Margaret Berry is letting loose—and appreciating the thrill of a life well-lived.

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For almost 80 years, Margaret Berry, BA ’37, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna, has been a stalwart supporter of UT. Once named “Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen,” Berry’s achievements at the university are paramount. She founded the university’s first telephone counseling service; wrote numerous history books about campus; and returned to teaching at age 80, when the Provost’s Office asked Berry to lead a Freshman Seminar, which she gladly did for the next eight years.

On the occasion of her impending 100th birthday on August 8, Berry wrote this essay, which serves as a reflection on her long, storied life, and a celebration of the comfort and wisdom it has afforded her as she rounds out her (first) century on Earth. —Chris O’Connell

Click play for Berry’s narration:

I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. Oh, not my body! I sometimes despair over my body, the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, the skinny arms. And, often, I am taken aback by that old person who lives in my mirror, but I don’t agonize over those things for long.

I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, for less gray hair. As I’ve aged, I’ve become kinder to myself and less critical of myself. I’ve become my own friend.

Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 a.m. and then sleep until noon?

I don’t chide myself for eating that extra piece of candy or piece of bread, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly gecko I didn’t need. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant.

I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon; before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging.

Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 a.m. and then sleep until noon?

I know I am sometimes forgetful or don’t hear everything, but there again, some of life is just as well forgotten or not heard, and I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years, my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or funds run low, or even when a beloved pet gets hit by a car? Broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turn white, and to have my youthful laugh be forever etched into the deep grooves of my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver.

As we get older, it is easier to be positive. We care less about what other people think. I don’t question myself anymore. I’ve earned the right to be wrong.

I like being old. It has set me free. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will try not to waste time lamenting too much or too long about what could have been, or worrying too long about what will be. I shall eat dessert and a piece of bread every single day, if I feel like it.

May you have a rainbow of smiles on your face and in your heart forever and ever.

Photo by Wyatt McSpadden. Audio by Gretchen Sanders/Audio Archives.

 

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