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INTERESTING STUFF – 28 December 2019

Maya Angelou – On Aging

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.


I found you awhile back looking for info on getting old. I fought getting older then and still do now. I did not receive the 101 class on aging.
What I “ used” to do seems to be the common theme when I visit with friends.
And as you can imagine that is not what we should be saying. Turn it around to what we are doing now.

Thank you for these lovely thoughts on aging. They express what I've been feeling, that despite the changes on the outside, I really haven't changed on the inside. The things that nurtured my soul when I was younger continue to do so now.

And yes, it's much better to focus on what we're doing now and let go of how things used to be. One of the lovely things about aging (facing limitation and mortality) is gaining a deeper appreciation of what a beautiful gift life really is.

The Maya Angelou piece captures it perfectly.

Lifelong learning, this baby boomer, I've studied before I got there, ie. joined AARP so I would get the magazine before I was 50, lied about my age, anyway, also went to classes on Death and Dying, Menopause, Aging all early on, and now that I'm in my 70th year, kinda forgot lots of what I read, and heard, and just enjoying the sunshine and rain, it makes rainbows, and notes from here to there etc. Thank you and wishing you many more blogs, (and yes, read Eda LeShan's books as well, love it.) Maya Angelou so wise, and time will tell how all of us boomers make it through this maze we call life.

Oh, this came just when I needed it! Maya is telling it like it is, very different from the, yes, I'm gonna say it, "organ recitals" I've been listening to far too much of lately. It gets to feel toxic after a while. Now I'm talking about people with physical problems that are very or mostly manageable. I want to be compassionate, gentle, kind, but something has to change! Perhaps I can start that by sending this article and Maya's poem to a few of these friends. "Don't think I need your chattering, I'm talking to myself," that line says so much.

At 95, I have discovered that old age should not be connected or associated with the number of years that one has lived. Many times your body may become old, while your brain and attitude may remain relatively young. Or, in sad cases, your brain and mind can age and deteriorate before your body.

In my case, old age did not set in until my body began to yield to time spent; while my mind stayed young. That is a blessing. As long as your thoughts are relevant and free, a person should not feel old; even if he or she uses a walker or a cane; and possibly wheelchair-bound. Even if becoming a centenarian is close at hand.

I am surprised and delighted that I feel young in my head and mind; even if the ole bod has given way in many areas. As long as I can think straight and even have good dreams as I sleep, I won't feel "old"; while as I look around me in this elder community in which the wife and I live, I wonder where all these old people came from.

Is it my imagination, or are women the best, and at least, the most prolific at insights into growing old? Men do it, but I think they might often have a tad more bitterness, sadness and/or anger--maybe all three;
Like I do about the whole ordeal. I've observed women are more firmly within the cycle of life and accept it. Rambling thoughts of mine. John

I very much enjoyed that quote from Maya Angelou about growing old, not up; I’ve fretted too many times that I was too old to be so naïve still, or thinking or feeling the same way I did 40 years ago.

I also enjoyed (and appreciated) Emiel Meisel’s comments… I shouldn’t be so surprised at what he had to say, but I was. I very much hope (if I’m fortunate enough to live to be 95) I can feel, think & share as he does.

I don't know the answer to your question John, but I can say that yesterday I had a remarkable visit with my 93 year old stepfather and come away from each of those in awe. He lost his wife, my mom, in January of this year when she was 88, and it was his first Christmas without her. Still, he has gotten up each day and opened his little shop downstairs from the apartment where they lived for about twenty years together, and which he built as a much younger man, many years before that. He gets up, makes his bed, shaves and gets dressed, has breakfast, goes for a cup of coffee and comes back, turns on the open sign in the front window and proceeds to get on with his day. He's getting a bit wobbly, but he's careful and has put in handrails where needed and often relies on a cane. I wish that everyone could be as active and as healthy as he at that age. I don't know what the answers are, but I know he and my mother ate carefully, took good care of each other and shared many hugs each day, and I don't think they ever felt "old."

Those final two lines in Maya's excellent poem seemed most appropriate for those of us who struggle along with COPD . I was diagnosed 15 years ago, and indeed feel fortunate to be still "breathing in."

Thanks for posting Ms. Angelou's "On Aging".
As usual, verse achieves what prose tries.

Wish I could be more "philosophical" about old age, but the only thoughts that come to mind at this particular moment are not exactly along those lines. I'll be 83 in 10 days. I'm grateful that my husband (90 last November) is still here with me as are our 2 senior cats (14 and 18), but overall, it is what it is.

Having gone thru caregiving with an elderly father who was in frail health, growing old terrifies me. The curtain was lifted and altho none of us get out of here alive, this is my only consolation, that we are in it together, all of us, including the medical industry. I'm hoping the boomers change the ignominy.

Love Maya Angelou. Not sure magnolias are shy? But it was a little painful reading her poem because we are going thru this with an elderly family member who can no longer walk.

Nora Ephron had some humorous observations about growing old. I also remember reading a few books, by women & for women, about middle age when I turned 40.

I enjoy seeing older women with style! Wear color!

What a great line, "I'm listening to myself." Maya Angelou had every reason to be a bitter and sad human being, but she chose to be a light instead. Bless her. I turn 74 in a few days' time and I'm happier and more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been. Bless the many days and years that have taught me that my worth lies not in looking like a runway model, but in having a loving and compassionate heart. Beautiful bodies age, love and kindness never gather wrinkles or require a walking stick. I only wish the young knew that growing old can be/may be filled with physical challenges and pain but it also can bring many gifts they can only dream of if we only open ourselves to them. <3 Thank you for being here for us Ronni!

Magnolia blossoms bruise easily. They much prefer staying majestically on the tree. No fancy vases please. I grew up with magnolia trees that lined many of the front gardens along Prince Avenue in Athens Georgia. I fell in love with these magnolias. Planted 6 small magnolias along the driveway of home my husband and I built in Atlanta. These were about 6 ft tall. When we sold this house 25 years later these Mags were at least 40 foot trees. My favorite tree! And the aroma is so sweet.

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