Thursday, 30 August 2012
What is it Like to be Old?
Because I am a bit distracted this week while setting up and organizing a filing system for my new History of Old Age project, that's mostly what I've been thinking about. So today, I have a related question for you.
Small children and elders usually get on together quite well; they seem to have an innate understanding of one another. That often changes sometime around adolescence and thereafter, young people and even mid-aged people can be too caught up in their lives to pay much attention to old people or their lives.
Hence, Socrates' question to Cephalus quoted here yesterday: What is it like to be old? which would be the query version of the subtitle to this blog in the banner above.
My intention when I selected that phrase was that over time, if I went at it from every conceivable angle that presented itself, a picture, a feeling, a good, general idea of what getting old is really like might make itself clear or, at least, somewhat more clear to us.
What I realized yesterday and surprised me is that unlike Socrates, I've never directly asked that question of anyone. How could I have missed that.
Old age, to most people not yet aged, is like a foreign country they have not visited and indeed, that is exactly so. You can't really know it until you're there.
One of the most striking features of old age is its diversity. We age at dramatically different rates and some people in their fifties can be decrepit while some in their nineties are as sharp and nearly as capable as in their mid-years.
However that turns out for a given individual is due mostly to genetics, health and dumb luck.
Last week, geriatrician Bill Thomas noted in these pages that “As we get older we are less and less like our peers in every way." Pat Thane, the author of The Long History of Old Age agrees:
”'Old age' is a diverse phase of life partly because of its very length. It is said to extend from the fifth decade of life to past 100. By contrast both 'youth' and 'maturity' cover shorter timespans.”
Over the years of this blog, some readers who have been well into the years of old age have insisted they are not old, often quoting the adage, “you're only as old as you feel” which has always struck me as the ultimate in denial not to mention illogical: since you have never been as old as you are now, however that feels is what that age feels like.
So if anyone reading this is inclined to debate when exactly old age begins, please don't. If you like, we can do that another time. Today, I'm setting the onset of old age at an arbitrary 50 and I am deeply curious to read your answers to Socrates' question: What is it like – for you - to be old?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Earthquake Weather