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Wednesday, 09 July 2014

The Privilege to Grow Old

It's a cliché, that headline. You see it printed on plaques and greeting cards and if people still stitched them, undoubtedly it would turn up on samplers:

”Do not regret growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.”

The thought could be a companion to another bromide, “Old Age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.”

And that one could be taken as a reaction to actor John Derek's dictum in the 1949 movie, Knock on any Door: “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.” (Many other sources cited here..)

I doubt that Derek's character (or the film's writer) really meant that. I think the 17th/18th century satirist, cleric, poet Jonathan Swift nailed most people's feeling about old age, one that remains so more than 350 years after Swift's death: “Everyone wants to live forever but nobody wants to grow old.”

If anything, that sentiment has become only stronger over the centuries; it is now a cultural truism promoted and supported by the several billion dollar anti-aging industry.

From the cradle, we are brainwashed every day with images, jokes and advertising telling us that gray hair, wrinkles, saggy skin and other evidence of old age are bad, bad, bad and must be denied even when they are obvious.

We are exhorted to lie, pretend and spend large amounts of money in the attempt to make everyone looking at us think we are younger than they can perfectly well see we are.

When the appearance of old age can't be denied, people think saying “She doesn't act old'” - whatever that means - is a compliment. (By the way, next time someone says that to you, paraphrase Gloria Steinem as I do: “This is what 73 acts like these days.”)

All the negative energy aimed toward aging exhausts me. We're all going to die but in the United States, if we make it to 65, we can expect nearly 20 more years of living and that's just the average. Life expectancy at 65 for people in other developed countries is even a bit higher.

And it is a privilege to be here that long because some are not.

Too many friends died young. One was only 28. Another was barely 40. A third, the same year, was 42. And one, with whom I had planned to share a home in our old age, was 52.

It would be a wonderful thing if I could know what kind of old person they each would have become. I choose to assume they would have had no interest in worrying about how they looked at age 60, 70 and more and having known them well, I believe I'm not wrong.

They – along with some others I knew – didn't get the chance to find out what old age is like. I have that privilege and so do most of you who read this blog. Certainly we can use the time better than pretending we are not old.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Mexico Adventure


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

Comments

Thanks, Ronni. Lately, I have reconsidered goals for my remaining years. I used to think I should live "like I only had a few months" left. Now, I say, "Don't be afraid of taking on more long term writing projects." If I do make it for "a longer time," I don't want to feel regret that I never started.

It would be a wonderful thing if I could know what kind of old person they each would have become.

What a great thought --- Thanks

My only regret is that my parents did not live long enough to see ME grow old.

Beautifully put! I was just thinking exactly the same thing! Rejected an ad on FB because it was about hiding your wrinkles...I'm so sick of all the negativity surrounding signs of aging! Maybe if we all fight back, those of us who are fortunate enough to have wrinkles, we might stem the tide of negativity! I feel lucky to have lived long enough to have wrinkles! But alas, there's not much money to be made in that!

...then again, there are occasions when I wish I had a chin again.

I've changed my goals from trying to LOOK good to trying to FEEL good. Sure I've got wrinkles and the gray hair--though it's been slow coming--is finally more apparent. I don't plan to do anything about those things--no Botox or hair dye for me.

But I have changed my diet radically to reduce my sugar consumption and increase my fruits & vegetables consumption. And I have added swimming to my yoga and walking routines. I don't try to be beautiful anymore, just healthy. I think if I stay healthy, I'll enjoy the coming years much more.

This is so beautiful, Ronnie. Thank you for your appreciation of the present at any age and the joy you have for life. I've never really understood the anti-aging industry. I think aging is beautiful– it allows one to remember all the places they've been!

My wrinkles don't bother me at all. They are a map of a life that survived life's struggles.

Thanks for the reminder about Gloria Steinem's remarks. I yam what I yam, work to be okay with that.

After three "breast conserving surgeries" for ductal carcinoma in 2006 followed by 33 radiation treatments, my surgeon offered reconstructive surgery. A cousin who underwent reconstructive surgery after her breast cancer contracted an infection which she suffered from for two years. I decided against the reconstruction. I am fine with what's left of my right breast and it has been seven years since the margins were clear. I faithfully have a mammogram every year. I am still alive and my cousin passed away two years ago.
We were within a month of being the same age. I miss her.

"Certainly we can use the time better than pretending we are not old." Profoundly agree with sentiments in this post. " Younger Next Year" is a book I recently spotted at the library that I have no intention of reading. We are ALL growing old. It is growing old vibrantly that matters, no pretending there is no aging.

I recently asked my 10 year old granddaughter if she thought I was old. I am 60. She said, "No, but you are getting there." That's how I choose to look at it, too.

I was interested in your comment about John Derek. He was my boyfriend when I was 14, 62 years ago. We had great fun riding horses in the Santa Monica California hills. He died in his seventies, probably not such a great looking corpse, but he was a handsome teenager!

I have to amend my post. It was 72 years ago. I can still ride horseback and I am so glad I got to get OLD.

Alice! So interesting and I am extremely impressed that you can still ride horseback!

I think you become the same kind of person in old age that you are when you are young; the traits just deepen and get stronger. A forward-thinking, positive and youthful in outlook person will still be that in old age, unless something drastic happens to change their psyche. A negative, grouchy young person doesn't usually change as they grow into older years (in my experience.)

Alice Hoffner, I am trying not to be jealous. I had SUCH a crush on John back in the day!!
LOL

Every comment above is gold.

I never lie about my age. Today I piped up in my ESL volunteer job classroom and flat out said I am 71.

Nobody fainted or dove out the window.

No way will I apologize for looking, acting, being this age.

We are a huge force in this world today. We have the knowledge, experience and staying power.

If you feel like learning something new or teaching something, forget about how old you are or how much time you might have.

Just go for it.

A senior woman I garden for is 88 years old. her husband died a year ago.

Call her G.

G got together with two of her retired children and bought a small farm in Ontario, where they plan to live and raise alpacas.

G could say "oh gee I am too old for this move."

But no. She is looking forward to a new life.

Bruce, I enjoy your blog. You are an example of someone who is shining where you are.

Nobody should be kicked off the dance floor of life.

Now want to laugh?

Please do this right now.

Google The Trashmen singing "Surfin Bird."

Hello from Typepad! Testing :)

I love to read the comments about aging from aging people.

I think a lot of "trying to look younger" is more about fear of dying than fear of aging.
And we live in a culture where it pays to look 10 years younger than you are. Of course you are not fooling yourself! But if you want to be taken seriously in our society, don't pull down the shades on grooming, exercise, make-up and "hair attention" before you are ready to be "dismissed!".
Still and all, it is ok to get to the point where being "dismissed!" is what we may actually want. "Leave me alone" is what many seniors really do say. And that is ok, also.
Just be kind to those who are still fighting the battle against erosion and gravity.

Agreed. And I had the same thought this morning on my walk I'm becoming very aware of how creaky I'm getting to be. My greatest motivation for exercising lately is less aesthetic and more the desire to keep all the parts moving.

Great Post!

Riverwatch and Marty--we may think somewhat alike about some aspects of aging. At 77 I'm not quite ready to be "dismissed". I'm still fighting but mostly with weapons I have naturally. No Botox, cosmetic surgery or expensive elixirs (altho' I do still choose to color my hair).

I'm not afraid of dying per se, but I am concerned about getting there in this age of "heroic" medicine. That a huge percentage of Medicare funds is expended on high-tech treatment of very ill elders in their last 3-6 months of life--when death will occur in a matter of weeks or months regardless--makes no sense to me. It approaches being criminal when the elder has made his/her wishes to the contrary clear in writing.

I'm waiting for the day when I let someone know my age (currently 76) and they reply, "Really? Gee you look much older than that" It would do my heart good after having so many people tell me, "...but you (insert verb or adjective) so young!"

Do I really look stupid enough to believe what they tell me?

Well, what's a 76 year old supposed to look like, eh?! Sometimes if we are upright the young think we look like a miracle!
It bothers me when people tell me I don't look 70. I always want to say (in alarm) "Well check and see what I look like tomorrow!"
The slide is real and on-going and it is shocking.
I don't want to look young, I just want to look "ok". Big job. Ha ha.
And, Elizabeth, the heroic medicine is "over the top" sometimes, but basically the anguish and pain go to the family and friends, not the patient. Having been a nurse doing "heroics", most team members say we are getting a chest tattoo that says STOP. Of course we never get the tattoo and we do realize that the heroics on old patients teaches the team how to better save the young person intact. It is "research and effort", not just effort. Do I believe in it? Not really, but I don't disbelieve in it either since I do cheer and support the rising generation. And many of the wonderful perfected advances in medicine I enjoy are possible because they were perfected on old patients who were in the departure lane when I was young. "Leave me alone" is a real statement uttered by many old patients. Even some young patients!

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