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Growing Old with Grace

Recently, I've been running across a lot of online writing about growing old with grace. Most of them are saccharine and say the same few things:

Stay active
Be social
Serve others

Some throw in the phrase “stay in love.” That's how you can tell it is mostly young people who write this stuff. They aren't old enough to have lost a spouse of many decades yet. As to the first four – well, duh. But they speak more to health than grace.

Yes, that overused, well-worn idea that no two people define the same way. What I have come to after nearly 20 years of reading, studying and thinking about age is that a graceful old age cannot happen (whatever the definition) without accepting our age and saying farewell to our youth.

There is the perennial question about when is someone old. Many people – some who have commented on the subject at this blog – think 50 or 55 is still young.

Really? Anyone who hangs on to that belief hasn't had to look for a job at that age. Workplace age discrimination starts at 40 – even 35 in the case of women – and it becomes painfully obvious in job interviews that even people your own age think you're old.

In western culture, 50 to 55 is the beginning of old age. But that's a good thing. Geriatricians and researchers who study aging tell us that on average these days, the diseases of old age don't start to kick in until about age 75.

So if we do not deny that aging is inevitable and do not obsessively try to prolong youth, we have 20 or 25 years before we hit old-old age to discover, move toward and live in a stage of life that is as different and distinct as childhood is from adolescence and adulthood.

Oh, the books and movies and TV shows and 50-plus websites and anti-aging “experts” will incessantly proclaim that we must and can maintain the appearance and behavior of people 20 and 30 years younger by whatever means they are touting – chemical, surgical, pharmaceutical.

They foist examples upon us of “supergrans” and “supergrandads” who climb mountains at age 80 and skydive at 90, strongly implying that we who don't are failing to keep up.

The best thing we can do is ignore them and rejoice in our aliveness for they believe only exteriors matter. If we don't listen to them, we can continue to love ourselves however different our bodies become.

Be honest, now: does having a saggy, old body prevent you from being happy, prevent you from knowing pleasure, however you derive it? Of course, it doesn't.

What makes any- and everyone beautiful in old age is acceptance of their years, of themselves as they are.

After about 60, it is a victory of sorts just to awaken in the morning. We can face each new day with sadness for our lost youth or with joy for our luck at reaching this time of life. It's a personal choice.

We eagerly said farewell to childhood when adolescence beckoned and goodbye to that stage of life when adulthood was upon us. It is a mistake – one of monumental proportions, I believe – to cling to adulthood when age arrives.

Instead, when we accept the losses age imposes on us – youth, physical power, our position in society – say yes to old age, open ourselves to its mysteries and live every day in the present tense with passion and an open heart, we can't help but experience this time as an opportunity for happiness, fulfillment, joy and in time, serenity.

In moving on from adulthood, we allow ourselves to grow into new dimensions of life and we get a chance at completion.

That is, at our own pace over the remaining years, we can review our pasts, learn to forgive our failures and trespasses, face our regrets – those coulda, shoulda, wouldas – find some peace and, maybe, wisdom.

I don't want to waste those wonderful opportunities by pretending I'm not old enough for them.

In no way do I mean to dismiss the debilities and diseases that can shadow old age and make everyday life difficult. But I do mean to say that we can explore distant horizons even as our physical worlds may shrink. All we need to do is ignore the charlatans of anti-aging and most of all:

Adapt as circumstances require
Accept our limits with humor
Find new pleasures to replace the ones we must surrender

In these acts, I believe, we find grace in old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: Famous Folks I Have Known


Love this! One of my pet peeves is that so many articles on being older are written by very young people.

btw, I recentally started following you on Twitter. I am Miss_Dazey there.

Ah yes, workplace discrimination at 35. That reminds me of the days (way back) when ads for women office workers stated age requirements of 17-35. Of course, I was young then. Now am finding just sinking into old age, even relishing each day of feeling good which, luckily, is most of the time, is the very best way to live at this time of life. In large part, Ronni, because of you and TGB and the support and understanding you give to us and these times in which we live.

Wonderful. Thanks.

Acceptance seems to be the trick. Laughter helps. :)

I envy the previous ("greatest") generation, because most of them grew old without much comment or hand-wringing. They were not afraid to mention aches and pains, or use the word "old," and generally had more humor than my baby boomer peers who take themselves way too seriously. I call them Gashlycrumb Oldies, (if i may steal from Edward Gorey, though Gashly should be Ghastly). I'm glad you mention those anti-aging charlatans, they're all over the place and their prescriptions are laughable. Ghastly in fact.

Being one of the "greatest generation" I thank you, Rainy, for your comment.

The greatest generation was hardened early in life by the Great Depression and WW II. That may be why we do not do much hand wringing.

And I thank you Ronni, for saying it all for me and for saying it so well.

The media is poisonous both to and about older people.

Thanks for striking a note that finds a "third way" other than sugary advice or impossible commands.

Amen, Ronni--you know the way!

Yes, Ronni, of course you are exactly right.

This is one of those Zen moments when we become strongest by submitting. That is, face the reality that our bodies are falling apart; we are getting wrinkly and faded; we don't always feel good; society blows us off mostly, etc.

But once that is faced, the realization hits that a new freedom has just opened up. Wow, there is a lot to enjoy, and a lot of our former worries and preoccupations are--poof!--GONE!

"Adapt as circumstances require

Accept our limits with humor

Find new pleasures to replace the ones we must surrender

In these acts, I believe, we find grace in old age."

Ronni, right on. Life has pushed me and shoved me to these beliefs, too, but I never expected to discover them stated so succinctly.

Beautifully said, Ronni!

Very well put.


I am 60, and quite surprised, actually. I naively thought it wasn't until the 70's that the body begins its regimen of aches and pains....downhill from then on. But I do enjoy life, stay active outdoors (which helps my enjoyment immensely) and have retired from my career and taken up new avenues of interest. There is a freedom there akin to the pre-career days of youth. Great post; thanks Ronni

Yes, and in accepting I'm learning the freedoms I have now. Some as simple as painting my toenails a blue color a relative pronounced awful. At 20 I would have rushed to remove it, but now I laugh, I like it, it's her problem not mine. And we still love each other. And so it goes for the rest of my life. Look for the good, sometimes its hard, but its there.

I'm one of the lucky ones, who, at 68, has no aches, pains, etc. However, that comes with friends telling me that there must be something wrong with me, I must have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or some other age-related problem.

One of these days it'll happen to me too, but in the meantime I'll enjoy the blessing of feeling great.

One of my favorite quotes from movies comes from 'Teahouse of the August Moon.' Fisbee tells Sakini that he has made peace with himself between his ambitions and his limitations. I would agree and add: I have made peace with myself at the age I am now and with who I am now. I think the most graceful older person I have seen (and I can't tell you what she thinks of herself) is a frail, silver-haired woman I see at the Y when Mom and I go for our morning walks there. She is always on the rail with her claw foot cane and a personal trainer walking beside her--walking very slowly. She walks at her speed and doesn't seem to be all that concerned about how she compares to anyone else.

At 77 I have no aches or pains, and it's sure as blazes not the result of clean living!

Great post, Ronnie, you hit the nail cleanly on the head.

I can't compliment you enough for this post. So profound. All can do is share it all over the Internet. Thanks.

Great writing, Ronni, as always. You know your subject well and express your views with eloquence and, yes, grace. For the most part we're in agreement. Still, I'm not quite where you are. At 76 I'd be a total fool not to accept that youth is long gone--and I do accept that--yet I'm not ready to concede to old age completely.

I'm basically healthy even though I'm no super-gran. I don't jump out of planes, climb mountains or run marathons (I never did those things). I do work, volunteer and do my best to stay active and involved. Unfortunately, "grace" has probably never been one of my strong points, and that's not likely to change now. But I'll work on it!

Love this! Thank you.

Have I ever told you that I love you?

Ronni & All--You may be interested in reading another posting on this subject:Growing Old Gracefully

As I recall, the author was a woman named Ronni.

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