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:
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