I’ve been thinking about aging lately. It might have to do with the fact that amid the ashes of my marriage’s implosion, I’m now finding small green shoots of hope. Whether it’s the dream of traveling or embracing a new relationship or exploring a creative passion, I’m allowing my imagination to dance again.
But usually at some point a panorama of negatives about aging comes into the picture. Age complete with a flimsy aluminum walker and ivory-topped wooden cane.
Age with its wrinkles
and lumps . . .
Age with its loose skin
and compromised hearing.
Is there enough time to let those green shoots grow?
Am I too old to dance in the streets during Carnival in Rio
to have an extraordinary relationship
to become a visual artist?
My thoughts sway with the ferocity of winds in a confused hurricane, strong and strange and unpredictable. One moment I’m saddened at perceived limitations. The next moment I’m excited with expanding possibilities. Here I stand at this odd cusp in my life, marveling at the push-pull of existence: Youth/Old Age, forward-looking/past-focused. I’m a Great Aunt and the mother of teenagers, an orphan and a single woman contemplating dating again someday.
I’m betwixt and between.
In department stores, younger salesclerks ignore me in favor of 20-somethings.
Women in their 60s tell me I’m just a baby.
On television my contemporaries fight desperately to stay young.
The people I’m meeting in their 60s and 70s are so much more content and purposeful than most of my peers.
Aging is a reality in the sense that
our bodies change
our past experiences inform what we do now and in the future
and we move through time no matter how much we might want to halt it. (And, my friends, halting it would be death.)
But is aging the end of fruitful living? Is it to be feared?
Or is aging an adventure? Does it deserve cultural — and personal — reframing?
What do you think? How do you relate to aging?
(BTW, I’m not at work today, so I can finally really carry on a conversation with anyone who cares to comment!)
Pari, when my last marriage imploded, I had many of the same thoughts. I was 42 and thought I was too old to go back into the dating pool or do anything worth mentioning.
But as it turned out, I needn't have worried. For starters, I assumed any woman I dated over a certain age would be a mother. And my first post-marital girlfriend and I had very much the same relationship two college kids might have when they realize they're out of the house and can do whatever they wanted.
But now I'm a stepdad with a kid in college. Never expected that to happen. And my wife and I are talking about starting a business together in a few years. Amazing, isn't it?
My parents hit retirement and ran right over it, so I have their amazing examples to follow.
This both helps . . . and doesn't.
But I'm learning to see each birthday as more than just another year gone–it's another 'building year' accomplished.
Hokey, maybe, but I'll take what I can get . . .
Thank you for the lovely vision of a possible future. I'm delighted for you, your wife and new family and the adventures you're planning. Isn't it wonderful that we have these opportunities now? I think of my parents and how they thought life ended at around 50 or so . . .
It's not hokey at all . . . it's a great way to think about your life. I know too many people who look at birthdays in their adulthood with a melancholic sense of loss.
As to your parents . . . good on them! I'm glad you have their example. Not all of us did/do.
Pari, I'm sure you've heard the quote about the person who is contemplating learning how to [insert activity] and says, "But do you realize how OLD I'll be by the time I accomplish that?" And the answer is, "Yes. The same age you'd be if you didn't try."
I don't think we can really plan who we'll be or what we'll be doing in old age, we just have to do what interests us and joyfully tackle whatever we are able to do right now today. Sure, aging is a limiting process, but it's also very freeing. In many ways.
Thanks for the reminder about that saying. I met a woman a few months ago who earned a degree in "new technologies" at 50-something. When she was thinking about getting the degree, she worried with that same question: Do you know how OLD I'll be? And her partner responded with the answer you just gave.
That is very, very empowering.
One of the quotes I most love on this subject is from Bernard Malumud:
'We have two lives. The one we learn with – and the life we live after that."
Go to Rio, Pari!
The whole aging thing just freaks me out. I'm spending a lot of time contemplating it these days. An inordinate amount of time. Very much the same way you are, it seems. It's not entirely negative, but it's emphasizing my mortality. I have a friend in his seventies who told me that there was a point where he simply became "invisible" to the world around him – his youth, his sexual attractiveness, melted into the background and he became "old" in the eyes of most of society. His comment had an impact that remains with me.
Another thoughtful post. I've recently started modified tai chi (so helpful as I have a physical disability) and the rest of the group are older than I am with many having serious health issues. I found myself contemplating my life a little differently as discussion prior to the class segued from various aches and pains, to what was difficult to do physically – and that's something I've contended with much of my life.
I've tended to overcompensate, and now my body won't let me…. I'm learning graciousness in asking for and accepting help, an interesting change from ferocious independence.
In the class and other groups I also enjoy the richness of life experience, and stories of times and situations we're less likely to see again from the people in the class. Everyone has something to contribute.
It may sound hokey Stephen, though when you love someone the physical stuff matters much less, I see many older couples where that love is there – different story if you happen to be on your own though 🙂
I value the learning I've gained, and while it would be nice to have the energy and flexibility of when I was younger – I wouldn't trade it.
I adore that quote! Thank you so much.
It's a tough nut to crack, isn't it? I see it in my own life in small degrees now but know enough older people to also observe the way they interact (or don't) with the world. I also don't know why "youth" is so valued in our culture — we're no longer agrarian where we need young hard bodies to scythe the wheat and haul the logs . . . But we're stuck there.
I think Baby Boomers need to grow up and face the aging process with a sense of adventure in order to serve themselves and future generations!
The whole idea of independence is interesting, isn't it? Why do we so fiercely guard this part of our life? I wonder.
I've found myself in a couple of situations lately where I've had group conversations with people who are in their 70s and it's been very refreshing. We spoke about ideas and life without the posturing I often notice in groups of 30-50 year-olds. These people were simply interested and interesting. That, at least, makes me look forward to the next 20 years or so . . .
And what does happen when our bodies fail us? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that we don't become isolated?
Something to think about.
I don't know about intimate relationships in the future; I am alone now and can't imagine that again . . .but, like you, I'm grateful — so grateful — for the lessons learned and am glad to be. here. now.
I keep having to remind myself that people reading my comments cannot hear the way I say it in my head…. I post and then find myself wondering how it comes across.
I'm grateful that I'm able to have access to the internet, it means I access very insightful conversations and comments here especially, and can contribute in various ways, without necessarily needing to move around much physically, which has been especially challenging over the past few weeks.
I was recalling after reading your blog today and some of the comments, how I used to let people know on first meeting me that I was studying for a degree, it's amazing how many people assume that because I walk differently that my intelligence is affected as well – that I think is sad, especially for those who may have difficulty speaking, for example, and just yesterday I was privileged to watch a sign language video about bridging between Deaf and hearing, I was intrigued by how clearly I got the message, though also by the focus required to absorb it.
We ALL do it to an extent, sum people up on appearance – oh the joy when you have assumptions tumble, or the guilty frisson when you can realise that you were so incorrect. I do endeavour to stay open minded, because I hope that people will do the same especially, it's wonderful to discover intriguing things about people, and have my tacit assumptions shot down 🙂
I have met some delightful members of the red hat society at times on the bus – it's as if they get that daring confidence from each other and just by wearing that symbol… I've always liked that poem when I'm an old lady I shall wear purple…. My hope is that with age I shall be less and less concerned with what people think, and be less afraid to try new things.
I also hope that I gain more grace in accessing and accepting support available to me.
Thanks for this post helping me realise that I'm in a much better place than a few months ago 🙂
I'm really late for yesterday's post, but I just wanted to comment.
I'm too young to talk about getting old, you know, but I'm thinking, in Rio, people who go on the street during Carnaval are the dancers who've rehearsed all year for that, that sort of stuff. Spectators are supposed to watch the parades from bleachers or something like that, I'm pretty sure. People go on the streets in Olinda, in Recife and Salvador, Bahia 🙂
and this was on my FB page this am via the Mankind Project…
I would never be able to sit and watch . . . I might need another plan.
First of all, thank you for engaging in the conversation at such a deep and meaningful level. I learned a lot and continue to think a lot about what you've written.
One of my best friends is someone I assumed many things about upon first meeting her and then gleefully realized I was about as wrong as a person could be!
Thank you so much for Candy Chang's video. What a beautiful and empowering stance in this brief life.
Before I die I want to . . .