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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


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I think the corporations and the rich are taking back the country and returning us to the Robber Baron days.

They organized and created their own "unions" to break the unions that were in place for the little guy.

Also---Sociology and the study of manipulation of the public was beginning to be studied at that time and they now have it down to a science.

I sound like a nut case but we have been cleverly outmaneuvered and so it is more difficult now to fight for the middle class.

So---I think your increased concern now is justified by recognizing that things have changed and there is no hugh movement to protest. Why do you think that is?

You are quite right that, "you had to be there".

Unfortunately, as you point out, those we know and love are thinning out. Last year we had several losses in our family. During February and March of this year, eight friends and close acquaintances of long standing died. And - I don't feel like the only person to be losing others, nor indeed do I feel that this is peculiar to our generation. As the song says, "That's Life!"

One of the things that makes it particularly hard to track down our old peers is that we women have bowed to pressure in changing our last names when we marry (and, in some cases, when we marry and marry and marry - as has been the case of my old college roomie). I've become convinced that women should shun "like the plague" changing their names.

For full disclosure, I am among the worst offenders since I bear neither my original last name nor the name of my husband. In a fit of independence (can you spell mid-life crisis?) at age 40, I made up a name for myself. Stooooopid! I was old enough to have known better.

Interesting about your name, Cop Car. Mine, too, is made up.

Ronni is short for Veronica which I never use except for legal documents, bank accounts, etc.

Bennett is my former husband's given name. When we married in the mid-1960s, a Jewish last name was not acceptable to use on radio (he was a talk show host).

So he took a different first name (Alex) and used his given name as his last name (Bennett).

During our marriage, no one knew me by either my maiden last name or my married surname and it seemed counter-productive, when we separated, to look for new work (I had produced his show) among professional people I knew with a name they'd never heard.

Lately, I've been sorry I don't use my original family name but it's way too hard to change that now.

ER Notes: I went back to my maiden name with this second marriage. Even with thirty years of practice, it's still unwieldy but it's mine.

Being alone. I'm never alone when I read.

I think of current unfolding events as you do, Ronni, and feel the same extreme sense of rage at the blatant injustice seen in all directions. Is it age causing it, a sense of time whizzing by with increasing urgency to get involved but without the youthful vim and vigor to do so? I don't know but it's there. I guess signing petitions and writing to members of Congress and to organizations does make a difference--sure hope so.

I find that it is easier and quicker for me to know what I think about things as I have become older. That is probably a combination of being more knowledgeable, wiser, and more confident than when I was a young woman.

What I hope it does NOT mean is that I have become set in my ways, or hidebound. I want to be open to new ideas or better information, as they come along.

For what it is worth, I kept my maiden name when I married, many years ago. I kept waiting to experience problems because of it, but none materialized. I'm glad I did it.

Sad, but I have the opposite reaction -- still get upset and enraged at injustices, etc. but now that I'm almost 70, I find myself thinking that that's just the way of the world and human nature and nothing I can do about it -- plus it will all be over
some day. When I was younger, I was much more hopeful that things could be changed.

Re the ferocity: Florida Scott Maxwell said it well:"Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate. I grow more intense as I age.
Re the names thing: For the most part,in our culture, going back to one's maiden name simply means exchanging your ex-husband's surname for your father's. The names still belong to the guys, either way. For true equality, a better way to do it might be for boys to take Dad's surname and girl's to take Mom's. I believe some people already do it that way.
Re loneliness in old age: I haven't made peace with that yet either, but I know I must work on it.


Your posts are so frequently spot-on with their timing! I learned recently that I am going to be a grandmother, and went into a full-blown panic attack. I had always wished I was able to have more than one child, and had, in the abstract, hoped for grandchildren some day. But as I have become older and have paid more attention, I can easily categorize my worries: financial, ecological, and political, which of course, are interrelated. I believe that deciding to have children today is, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the triumph of hope over intellect. I only wish I had a small fortune to leave them, to aid in their chance to thrive or even survive.

Perhaps the reason we feel so much rage against injustice in our elder years is that we have more time to do so. I have often said that the hardest lesson I had to learn in life was that justice does not always triumph. And now I fear that it seldom triumphs.

The lessons of history have to be re-learned over and over as history repeats itself. We are now back in the times of the robber barons and the consequences of that terrible time are here once more. We did not suffer another Great Depression, but we came close and for too many, it did happen.

As to the subject of loneliness: I have found the only antidote is to keep busy. Now that I am no longer able to garden and keep busy doing physical activities, I keep busy by reading, starting (and rarely finishing) projects, the computer, etc. I am still learning and hope to never stop until my heart stops.

"but there was an easy comfort with people who had known me for a long time, and I them."

I know this is true and my high school friends are more important to me now than they were back when. I have lost touch with all but a few of my college friends - but somehow - it doesn't matter. FB keeps me in daily contact with those who matter most.

I don't feel personal loneliness, but I think the generational angst is as real as it was during adolescence. I feel for the older person who has few or no friends - whether it's because of a difficult personality or loss. They're totally dependent on the kindness of service people and strangers.

I'm with 'another annie'. History indicates there's a cyclical reality that's likely the result of population changes, economic reality, and who is in power. I don't think the Iraq war was started so we could murder over 100,000 Iraqi's, and kill and maim 50,000+ American and allied forces, but that's what we did. Obama is being pilloried for being a wimp, but we can't win the kind of wars we wage now. I think history will regard him as a far wiser leader than many. The Arab countries aren't the only society that wants to cling to 'the good old days'.

The best most of us can do is to look around locally and try to make life better close to home.

Maybe the rage over injustice comes because we are coming to the realization of how small and ineffective we humans are. I still think that whatever really controls this universe and the ones beyond has a really wicked sense of humor. I hope they use it on some deserving politician.

The older I get the more outrage I feel toward the rich (and no, it's not out of jealously) and some of our congressmen for the way they treat the poor in this country. The day I watched a wealthy congressman get a $350,000 farm subsidy for himself and then see the same man turn around and vote to cut food stamps for millions was the day I came nearest to putting my foot through the TV. Truly there is a deep, deep place in hell for these selfish, self-centered loathsome people. Sadly, I truly believe we have become one of the most corrupt countries on earth while we wrap ourselves in a flag of self-righteousness.
I have only one vote (at least until the powers that be figure out a way to take it away from me)and I will always use it with the hope that one day the person I vote for will remain true to his/her word;something that has not happened in the past.


I also miss the comfort of being with an old friend.

All of my old friends are gone and ,though I like and enjoy my new friends very much ,it is not the same.

One of my favorite poems is the one I print below. It expresses the very same sentiments that you spoke of, Ronni.

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.

Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

― Dinah Maria Mulock Craik

I have found that the older I get, the more empathetic I feel towards others and their causes. People and things that, years ago, I could not have given a hoot about, now make me want to get up and do something. Maybe this is something that comes with old age or not and perhaps this is why seniors are so often the targets of charlatans and scammers. In any event, I am proud of my newfound compassion and hope I don't become jaded by the nay-sayers in our society.

2009 was a terrible year for me -- five close family members died within months of each other. And then, a sister filed suit against me over my handling of my mother's will, meaning I lost another close family member as well. She dropped the suit two years later, but the damage has been done.

As for friends, I have none anymore except my husband. He is a gem, but I worry that if he dies before I do, I will be totally alone. My grown children do keep in touch, but they are extremely busy with their own lives and children and they all live far away.

Part of my problem was that my first two husbands were control-freaks and kept me isolated from friends and family. Now that I wish I had a few friends, I live far from my hometown and have no idea as to how to contact the old friends I had. I did find one of my high school best friends only to find that we had little in common anymore, nothing to talk about and that she really didn't want to renew our relationship...

Now, to address the state of America today -- I was a rabid political activist in my younger days, demonstrating against the Viet Nam conflict, demonstrating for civil rights, demonstrating for women's rights, participating in sit-ins, marches, boycotts, the works! I truly believed that together we could make the country and the world a better place. And I was proud of my country as we won concessions and better laws.

Times have definitely changed. With the Supreme Court rulings allowing crooked campaign financing, banks criminally stealing funds from their customers and getting away with it and all the other changes within the last ten years, I am no longer proud that we are now ruled by an oligarchy rather than the democracy we used to have.

America has initiated wars based on lies and has tarnished the brilliant reputation we once enjoyed. I feel very strongly that there must be campaign finance reform and that Bush and Cheney should be charged with war crimes. The torture our country perpetrated against prisoners is still a cause of shame -- and we have no idea whether that is still going on or not.

There may have to be a revolution to take this country back from the corrupt politicians and corporate goons. It may not happen in our lifetime, but something must be done to bring back jobs and opportunities for our children and grandchildren and to restore pride in this country again.

We had every reason to be angry about the world around us in the 60s, but our anger was changing the world for the better - civil rights, anti-war peaceniks, desegregation, women's liberation. We who have lived the changes and watched the world go from peace and love to greed and inequality are angry again, but have no recourse today, it seems. We've been disenfranchised by monied interests and weak and cowardly politicians.

I have many acquaintances, however, my closest friends are family.

We're comfortable with each other and we don't have to censor every word.

My best friend is my husband, and I can't imagine being without him.

We have worked like sled dogs to build a secure footprint.

We visited many parts of the world, wandered backstreets, ate all kinds of exotic food, and talked to people on trains, planes and automobiles.

Friends from high school? I have one, and she lives in another province.

We see each other now and then.

I don't like thinking about our next stop. You know, the one where you decide to downsize because you are alone or in bad health.

Some people look forward to living in a senior building.

I don't. I like my privacy, and can not imagine sitting around a table full of perfect strangers.

Yes I know eventually you make new friends, but they wouldn't be family.

I'm already observing little cliques forming at the senior home where I volunteer once a week serving lunch.

The reason I am inside the belly of the beast, is that I got curious about how these homes operate.

And this is an upscale senior home.

My mother says "don't bring the mountain to you."

Live in the moment.

Several years ago I returned to a place that I lived in my twenties and early thirties. In those days I had many friends and we were a community of sorts. Then I left, as did quite a few others for work and other pursuits. Now I have returned, and feel welcomed back by that old community. And I watch as others return too. It is like the friends we had in our twenties were really important to us, they were our formative years and these were the people we went through it with. And now that we are old we return to our community. Tonight I was at a gathering to welcome back another returnee and it felt good. We are back together again, these are my family, these are the people I grew with. I am single but not alone, not lonely.

I have very little social contact, but I've always sought solitude - and enjoy it even more in my old age.

Yes, I rage against injustice, but there's a lot of good stuff going on in the world too. You just don't hear about it. News by its nature tends to be the unusual or negative.

In my calmer moments it seems to me people are wising up - less apt to accept the cruelty and injustice of the world. And I do believe the new generation is more aware of what's going on - good and bad. Hopefully they'll begin the complete overhaul we need.

I liked this post and so many of the comments, especially Charlotte's about belief in a new generation. I liked Lauren saying "look around locally and try to make life better close to home".
Some of us get more fierce as we age, some of us get more placid as we age. But for sure we all change. Isn't it great that we are not clones and carbon copies of each other!!
As to loneliness, I am less lonely as an older person than I was earlier in life. There is no loneliness like the loneliness that can occur in a bad marriage! Maybe I am just more used to loneliness, maybe I am just more at peace, maybe I feel the departed are not that far away, maybe I cut more people more slack, or maybe I have lower expectations.
At least I am not afraid of loneliness anymore.
I don't feel "less" or "unworthy" or like a "freak" when I am lonely. It is OK to be lonely! Is there anybody who has not experienced great loneliness from time to time?
Because of loneliness I appreciate people more, even the ones I don't like! Even strangers.
We are important to each other.
Thanks for the wave. It helps.


The older I get, the less time I have for fools. One of the signals that I'm suffering a fool is when I find her repeating mindless leftoid babble about the "Koch brothers" with nary a word about George Soros. At that point, I figure I'm hearing the opinions of someone who can't think very well. So I excuse myself & go talk with someone else. (Excuse me, I need to mumble mumble mumble...)

Love this post and entire discussion.

I'm lucky to have four wonderful siblings, their spouses, and my son and his wife in my life. They are my you-had-to-be-there friends. I am alone but not lonely.

As for the changes you describe, I rarely attribute them simply to my growing older or more intolerant (although I am). I truly feel our country is struggling under the weight of the rich and powerful. Our democratic system, with the aid of the Supreme Court, seems poised to fall irretrievably into the hands of the Kochs and Soroses of this world, leaving the rest of us with no voice, no power, nothing but a ruling oligarchy. And I see no way to stop it ...

Oh my...Ronni my friend..you speak so well for all of us out here in "bloggerland" who share not only your age group, but also you thoughts, feelings, and words. We love and appreciate you so very much!
Tricia😊age 71

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