…is getting old.
We Americans are youth worshippers. Â We are repulsed by old age and all of its trappings.
Recently, I realized with a start, that, incredulous as it seems, Â I am approaching my 80th birthday! Â I had expected to grow old Â mindfully, gracefully, Â not to be “struck old.” Â In her nineties, my Â mother used to say she Â “felt 18 inside.” Â It seemed ridiculous, even
embarrassing then, Â but Â to my chagrin, now it’s my turn to feel Â younger than my years. Â Â Friends say I have “aged well” (putting me in mind of a Camembert round) but the benchmarks are there. Â People Â rush ahead to open doors for me, Â offer to walk me across the street, pick up things I drop and, Â (worst of all) Â call me “cute.” Â There’s no escaping Â it. Â I look…. I am….well..old.
Which is not all bad. Â I am grateful to my ancestors for the sturdy genes that allowed me to reach Â this stage in life, still Â healthy and somewhat sound of mind. Â I am blessed in so many ways. Â I have wonderful friends and neighbors. My husband and I enjoy a very Â comfortable life in a Â beautiful community. Â My family Â actually likes me.
But getting old is not Â easy. Â Aging is a Â process of letting go, of loss. Â We outlive friends and family, we lose mobility, it takes concentration to perform tasks that were automatic a few short years ago. Â Our health, once taken for granted, Â becomes unpredictable. Â We spend more time in clinics and more money on medications. Â We have less energy; Â we need more rest. Â It takes regular exercise just Â to maintain the status quo. Â We avoid ladders and stairs, Â give up night driving. Â We struggle to maintain our independence.
But even with all its obstacles, aging has really never been easier. Â Our livestyles would have been Â inconceivable to our grandparents, even our parents. There is a rapidly growing industry devoted to Â social activities and services Â forÂ seniors. Â There are Â cruises, exercise programs, trips to exotic locations, Â clubs, sports, educational courses and programs, retirement communities.Â Treatment for conditions that incapacitated our grandparents are now Â almost routine; cataracts, joint replacements, heart surgery. Â Â Cancer is no longer a death sentence. Â There is a steady stream of new information on aging in Â books, and TV.
We should take full advantage of all of these resources. Â We Â need to keep active, to take care of our mental and physical health, engage with our communities. Â But we must also feed our souls. Â We need to be mindful of who we are Â and the person we are Â becoming.
I think the Irish poet Â Dylan Thomas says it best:
Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Although at Â first glance this may sound like a call to arms for Â a frenzied assault on mortality, Â I think that is an oversimplification. Â I believe the poet was challenging us to face our mortality and to live out our best lives courageously and with grace.Â The journey to Â the end of life doesn’t have to be; shouldn’t be, Â a Â morbid and dreary slog of Â loneliness loss and pain.
But it’s not easy. Â The people I know who have aged well have confronted their Â mortality head on and early on. Â They planned for it just as one plans for any stage of life, education, career, marriage and children. Â They expected Â medical expenses to increase at a time they would be living on fixed incomes. * Â They were not surprised when Â sudden life-changing events required Â a transition to new, more restricted lifestyles. Â Â They were aware of the Â need strong inner resources and for Â each other. They Â learned Â the art of interdependence. Â Preparing for old age is hard work.
Fortunately there are Â models for aging well. Â One in particular stands out for me. Â She seems to Â navigate this challenging passage effortlessly. Â Â In her 90s, she is alone, but not lonely, Â busy but not burdened, Â engaged but not entangled. Â She takes her appearance as seriously as she did in her 40s. OK, she’s a little vain, but she is still beautiful. Â You are unlikely to find her on the sofa watching TV; more likely she will be Â entertaining Â her great grandchildren, gardening,Â Â or volunteering in the local sewing guild. Â She drives herself to church, does her own shopping and is not much interested in discussing her ailments. Â Â Unfailingly cheerful and slow to criticize, she is the first to reach out, Â expecting, and more often Â than not, receiving, Â nothing in return. Â Â Although she has outlived two husbands and most of her friends, she is surrounded by people who love her. Â Her faith is strong and Â she doesn’t believe in entitlements.
It’s a high bar, but I’m going to give it a shot.Â After all, old age Â is simply a season of life for those Â who live long enough. I am fortunate to be among them.
*According to Â a 2016 GOBanking Rates survey, 35 percent of all adults in the U.S. had only a few Â hundred dollars in their savings accounts andÂ 34 percent had zero savings.