Tuesday, 04 December 2012
Youthiness in Old Age
Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert had truthiness – his term for something that kinda, sorta seems to be true but is not. Time Goes By has youthiness.
For the near decade I've been writing Time Goes By, I've been looking for a better way to explain why cosmetic surgery, Botox and other means people of age use to try to appear younger seem stupid to me. The youthiness aspect helps clarify it.
I don't much like such phrases as “young at heart” either. What's wrong with an old heart? I would argue that an old one is superior because it is experienced: it has loved more, been broken more often and despite that awful sense of betrayal, has found its way to recovery usually with a gain in the special kind of wisdom of the heart.
All around us, without let up, old people are admonished to keep striving. Go back to work, start a business, run a marathon, join a club, learn a language, write a book, take up a new hobby, meet new people. Everywhere we turn are people – always much younger – telling us that it is important to stay young and how to do it. Hint: keep busy, busy, busy because if you don't, you will be – horror of horrors - old.
The idea is that if you try really hard to behave like a young person and spend lots of money trying to look like one (never mind that your appearance becomes a grotesque facsimile of a human being), you will regain your youth.
Or, youthiness – as much a pretense of youth as truthiness is of truth.
But what if old age is its own time of life, as important and interesting and fruitful and different from previous years as adolescence is from infancy, and adulthood from adolescence? I believe it is.
Time now is becoming short for me. Yes, I can hear certain TGB readers (rarely the ones as old as the 80-somethings) saying, “Oh, Ronni, you're not old; you're only 71.”
Well, you are wrong. According to standard actuarial tables, a woman my age is into her final quintile of life with an average of 14 or 15 years to go. That's old and it would be dishonest to deny it.
More importantly, I am eager to find a good way to live this final part of life. I don't want to waste it trying to be something I am not or pretending I can or like to do things that are not so easy anymore or as interesting.
A small example: a few years ago, I was walking down a street in Greenwich Village with a 30-year-old friend. Everybody walks fast in New York and during my years there I was no exception. But on this day, I was about 63 or 64 then, I was breathing hard (while trying to hide it) and having trouble keeping up with my young friend.
What did I do? I stopped to look in the window of a shoe store. She and I both love shoes so it was not out of character for me or a reason for my friend to question my pause on our way to wherever we were heading.
But what was really happening, I realize now, is that I still bought the idea of youthiness then and was loath to admit that I couldn't keep up that speed for as long as my friend could.
Youthiness. Pretense. Maybe it could bring on an early death.
What I want from this stage of my life is to fully live it, be in it, wallow in it. I want to understand its uniqueness, discover how it is different from what came before, experience the changes – whatever they may be - and come to know what it is to be old.
I believe that our cultural youthiness is antithetical to that goal. That if I follow the widespread dishonesty of pretending to be young, I will miss something significant in life. What a terrible shame that would be.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Home for Christmas