Twelve years ago, feminist godmother, Betty Friedan, published a book as thoroughly researched as The Feminine Mystique, which she had published 30 years earlier, in 1963.
The Fountain of Age is a deeply rich study of aging, a fount of information on such topics as "Denial and the "Problem' of Age", "Intimacy Beyond the Dreams of Youth" and "Coming to a New Place". Although the book has never reached the audience of Friedan's seminal first work, every page is filled with thoughtful, compelling ideas about getting older.
Recently, I was re-reading the section on "Age as Adventure." If you are a regular reader of Time Goes By, you can imagine my pleasure at this quote from a Jungian analyst, Suzanne Wagner:
"Our fear of dying has thrown us into a spasm of wanting to control everything, but death is one thing we cannot control. Why not accept your own age as part of nature and find out what it really is instead of tampering with it? The problem is, we don't often listen to older people, we don't recognize that wisdom, flowing like a fountain."[emphasis added]
Last Saturday afternoon, amba of ambivablog at last traversed the three or four blocks between our homes (we'd been attempting this first meeting for an embarrassing number of months) and we spent a delightful couple of hours getting to know one another in person. One of the agreements we came to about getting older is how excellent it is to slough off many of the concerns of our youth that caused so much consternation through the years. "They don't matter anymore," I remember amba saying, and Friedan concurs:
"The new sense of adventure which age may force or free us to can lighten us of unnecessary weight and burdens we've dragged too long from our childhood, the frustrations of our youth that we swore never to face again.
"How strange not even to worry about them anymore, to find old pain strangely dulled, or even if sharp, bearable after all. How freeing, not to have to worry about, or maybe even feel, those old conflicts, about success and failure, in work or love."
Friedan also spends a good number of pages quoting studies that refute the commonly held belief that creativity diminishes with age. She quotes gerontologist, Robert Kastenbaum, who wrote that
“…’habituation,’ which, in both love and work ‘obscures our ability to recognize what is new or original in ourselves or in the world around us.’ He proposes a new seriousness, and a new playfulness, in age about ‘the creative impulse: why it won’t just quit.’…creativity in age ‘is [wrongly considered to be] either a trivial pursuit or a pursuit undertaken by trivial people.’
“This attitude tells us ‘less about the true nature of creativity in later life than it does about our society’s discomfort with the prospect of dealing with an active, imaginative, unpredictable and there dangerous senior generation.’”
Friedan found that what many consider outrageous or foolish behavior some people undertake as they age, often dismissed as "senile reversion to childishness," is instead, wonderment, an essential element of wisdom. She quotes Allan B. Chiver from Creativity in Later Life:
“Wisdom appears to invoke the return of wonder and mythic delight in the world…Central to the attitude of wonder is an affirmation of life just as it is in the present. The individual neither hankers after a lost past nor a future yet to be…an affirmation of one’s life just as one lived it, for better or worse…an affirmation of one’s past, the return of wonder invokes a similar affirmation of the present, down to small, ordinary events.”
Although I have a long way to go on the journey toward wisdom, I have recently, through no effort on my part, noticed a return, sometimes, to wonderment in the smallest things - a baby's smile, the exquisite texture of a crisp, new apple, the seriousness and intensity of the cat's concentration on cleaning his tail.
It is a big, fat book, The Fountain of Age, and when I first read it twelve years ago - at 52 - it seemed dense, too dense and too much of a slog to get through, although I did finish it. Today, in the middle of my seventh decade, it has become a crucial and meaningful guide for me to the adventure of aging.