Earlier this week, long-time TGB reader Elizabeth left, in part, this comment:
”The culture we live in insists that 'living to the fullest' means an incessant pursuit of experiences. One MUST travel in retirement. One MUST attend cultural events. In some circles, one MUST volunteer or be politically active.
“The idea of a bucket list is another piece of that pressure to do, do, do. After a lifetime of working and raising a family, I am able to live fully the way I want to...
“My paternal grandmother once commented on how annoying she found the recreational staff at her senior residence. They were so worried that she didn’t participate in the (to Grandma) condescending song fests and games. She kept saying that she was finally able to do exactly what she wanted.”
Elizabeth is correct. The only old people to whom American culture pays even a small amount of respect are the ones who act like younger adults, 40-year-olds for example.
You know the headline stories: a 102-year-old park ranger; an 80-year-old who climbs Mt. Everest; a 91-year-old marathon runner.
These elders are outliers who, via glorification of their physical advantages, we are urged to emulate. Not the tens of millions of us who carry on daily activities the best we can, without too much complaint (if you don't count Crabby Old Lady), while navigating the large and small and sometimes frightening difficulties of old age.
In the media hubbub surrounding the recent Academy Awards, I saw a headline announcing that movie producers are now embracing older actors and stories about old people. No, they are not - not unless their name is Judi Dench or Maggie Smith or Helen Mirren. (It helps to be British.)
And in general, there are just three storylines:
• The aforementioned extreme sports stories (that always imply “if he can do it, what's wrong with you?”)
• Love in old age (aren't they cute)
• Spunky elders (with or without terminal disease) who carry on through every adversity, designed and guaranteed to leave the entire audience weeping when they die at the end
In supporting roles, elders are almost always the objects of ageist humor.
As Elizabeth points out, it is close to universally true that people who have not yet reached old age think we're doing it wrong if we are not behaving like 40-year-olds.
Until you're old, you probably have no idea how chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and dozens of others hamper one's ability to do the things that were easy at age 40.
And that doesn't include plain old tiredness, the fatigue that comes along just because you are old now and your body slows down.
People sometimes say it's too bad there isn't an instruction book for getting old. I think it's a good thing NOT to have that book, not to have an arbitrary “expert” telling us what we should be doing.
Remember, there is no right way to grow old. Do it your way and do it proudly.