In the five or six years before I started this blog 15 years ago, when I was doing my early research into aging, there were hardly any books about the subject. The few that existed were mostly academic tomes, popular instructions on how to appear younger and collections of jokes about how awful getting old is.
That changed at just about the exact moment the oldest baby boomer turned 65 in 2011. I don't mean the books necessarily got better. Only that the passage of those earliest boomers into elderhood begot a tsunami of books on ageing.
From that point forward, anyone who lived to be 60 or more, with or without discernible English language skills, wrote a book about growing old. (Near illiterates were, apparently, as ticked off about incessant disparagement of growing old as I was/am.)
No one writes about other ages of life while they are living them. Teenagers don't. Nor do young adults. And the only person I know who wrote about middle age was my late friend, Eda LeShan. It is titled The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age, a book Eda approached from her professional perspective of family counselor.
Books about ageing – good, bad and mostly indifferent – now pour forth annually, so many that I no longer bother with them unless I can discern their relative value before reading.
I know. I miss some good ones but what's an old girl to do – there is only so much time.
Sometimes years later I catch up with a book I ignored when it was first published (I'll be telling you about one of those soon). Other times, I turn to shorter pieces which, depending on the writer, can be as knowing and wise as book-length thoughts occasionally are.
An important one came to mind over the past week or so.
It has been more than five years now since author, editor, college professor, truth-teller Maya Angelou died in 2014. Undoubtedly, I don't need to tell you how wise a woman she was and she found her way to writing about age now and then.
Her slim 2009 volume, Letter to My Daughter, is packed with her charm, insight and warmth including this:
"I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old.
“We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."
Isn't that splendid: “our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias."
She also said this:
”The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you're wrinkled.”
She sure did get a lot of good use out of magnolias.
Maya Angelou wrote an entire poem about being old and snippets from it have been bubbling up in my mind frequently enough that I had to track it down.
I posted it here when Ms. Angelou died and since there is nothing I can say about this extraordinary, inspiration of a woman that others have said well, here is the poem again, On Aging.
When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.