Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Fear of Aging
The fear of death is as old as human consciousness and it is a powerful deterrent to doing stupid things, on our way to the grave, that might kill us before our time. Still, few like to be reminded they are mortal and although it is rarely acknowledged, much of the ageism and age discrimination evident in U.S. culture must be attributed to that most primal of fears.
Old people remind others that they too will wither and die one day, so elders are often made outcasts – ignored, sometimes vilified for being greedy geezers, fired from their jobs before younger workers, and urged into retirement villages where they are isolated from the general population.
No wonder everyone is afraid of getting old.
But with aging come some excellent compensations that can be gained in no other way. Here are some of the things I like about getting older:
It is an enormous relief to have lost concern for my appearance which afflicted most of my adulthood. Now, “I yam what I yam,” as Popeye said, and at 64, I really mean it. I’m invisible to men these days, but the need to be noticed in a sexual way is gone with the waistline. Do I wish my face hadn’t got so pudgy in my old age? Well, yes. But I had the misfortune to be behind the door when they were passing out those gorgeous facial bones that give women like Katharine Hepburn such an attractive old age. And them’s the breaks. It’s okay.
Although my nature will never allow me to reach the Zen-like state of equilibrium I aspire to, my patience and tolerance have grown a great deal in just the past five or six years. Sometimes, now, I recognize when an argument is pointless and I can walk away from it even when I think I’m right.
If I can’t shrug when things don’t go my way, at least I don’t require myself to be stoic and pretend it’s all right anymore. When I lost the bid on the home I wanted in Maine last week, I cried. I even wailed a little. Sometimes bad things happen. In old age, I know to grieve for awhile, to feel the pain and then get on with Plan B.
More genuinely than in my youth, I can be pleased for another’s accomplishments even when they impinge on my beliefs about my talents and capabilities. I’ve stopped comparing myself to others.
And nowadays, I eat ice cream, only ice cream, for dinner when I feel like it without a twinge of guilt.
The most interesting thing about these changes is that they have happened without effort. They came along little by little on their own and I noticed most of them only in retrospect, after they had become part of my being.
To younger people, these may not seem, now, to be just compensation for a wrinkly face, limited energy and the aches and pains of old age, but they are infinitely more satisfying than the transient benefits of youth - or at least they feel that way. And the best part is that everyone, no matter how afraid they are of getting old, will find these and other rewards waiting for them when their later years arrive.
The important thing is to appreciate each era of life in its time.