Friday, 23 May 2014
A Couple of Thoughts on Growing Old
We spend a lot of time here on the specifics, the nuts and bolts of age – maintaining health, navigating government programs, age discrimination and ageism, political attacks on elders' well-being, death, movies, books, appearance, living arrangements and so on.
I have been writing this blog now for 10 years, a decade of keeping a close watch on aging: in our overall culture, in the comments on this blog, keeping note of my own changes and responding to all that on these pages of Time Goes By.
Superficially, I've changed a great deal. At age 73, I am more wrinkled, have a lot less hair on my head, maybe I'm a bit slower of foot but also, I am healthier after a 40-pound weight loss and continuing efforts at daily exercise.
It amuses me to watch the physical changes. Lately they (wrinkles especially) seem to multiply with greater speed than in the past but these are only the inevitable stuff, not what's important.
It is the bigger things that have not changed: my beliefs, political leanings, attitudes, opinions and principles – except in one way: I have become magnitudes more fierce when confronted with discrimination, prejudice, unfairness and injustice.
In individual instances, I can stand up for myself pretty well. When other people are targets, maybe those who cannot defend themselves as easily as I can, I become enraged.
At least with those I can sometimes help. What's worse is when such abuses are perpetrated against an entire population by the rich and powerful and influential.
Rich and powerful like U.S. presidents, billionaires Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers and members of Congress who, to pick one example, continue to use their unlimited resources to cripple (read: kill) Social Security.
Or when mega-corporations (actually, the people who run the corporations) renege on pensions, cheat on mortgages, poison the land and waters without consequence to themselves - only the people, the planet and animals who are sickened, killed and made extinct.
(Do you think it is an accident - or a reflection of reality - that about half the movies released these days are about catastrophic disasters?)
Of course, there is much more wrongdoing to list but you know all that. My point today is that for most of my life, I was just as angry as now but did not feel it with the urgency and distress I have now.
In younger years, I kind of shrugged, believing that since there was nothing I could do to affect change, there was no point in getting overwrought about it.
I remain just as impotent today but I have lost that knack of shrugging it off. It's with me every day, growing with revelations of corporate criminal behavior, government spying on citizens, killing foreign nationals with drones, lack of healthcare for veterans and other iniquities on massive scales revealed nearly every day.
Collective or personal, large or small, it feels to me like injustice has become law of the land and for the lack of outcry and revulsion, is now the norm.
To bring this back down to earth and my original point, it's hard to know if my new-found ferocity is attributable to an aspect of age. Maybe the change is just a function of time (slow learner) and I finally arrived where others have been for years.
I have no answer for that.
The other generality that has been on my mind is loneliness. We have talked here specifically about the dangers of being alone in old age, that it can literally kill us prematurely.
But I have come to think we are all lonely – maybe we are lonely at every age but I'm concerned here with old people.
One way it is manifested for me is that most of the people I knew in my young adult years are either dead or we lost track of one another. I didn't realize it at the time but there was an easy comfort with people who had known me for a long time, and I them.
There are four or five left but we live nowhere near one another and as easy and cheap as it is these days to keep in touch, I miss being quiet in a room with an old friend, the touch on an arm to make a point in conversation, the knowing that he or she understands all kinds of things that can't be explained to a new friend (you had to be there) and even with the uncomfortable truths, he or she loves you anyway.
That doesn't mean I am not finding solace in new friends I am getting to know. But I am pretty sure that loneliness for friends along with even the non-friend, familiar, cultural icons who are gone is in the nature of growing old and that part of our job is to make peace with that.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today. Vicki E. Jones: Acceptance