In Praise of Aging
Let’s talk about aging. One thing that really upset me about getting hit HARD in the head was that I lost nearly a decade of my life to recovery from it. I’m trying to be grateful instead of angry because, after all, I survived. I know that far too many people do not, or they end up even in worse shape than I, losing even more years than I did. That fact bothers me a lot; it also liberates me somewhat. In my time of recovery from that head injury, I went from looking (and feeling) about 15 years younger than I was (50 years old, so really more like 35) to looking (and feeling!) 15 years older than I am (now 58, so more like 73 years old).
Even at 58 (or 73), although I often look and feel old physically, inside I am, as they say, always the same age inside. I’m still the 8 year old girl sitting on the school steps at the kindergarten door in the early morning, waiting for her patrol post to begin. Isn’t this the case for most of us? We all have some fixed elements in our personality, temperament, intentions, interests…what we call the heart and the soul, and also in our intelligence quotients (which I was told concussion does not change). As is often said by old friends after years apart: “You haven’t changed a bit!” We all change, but we don’t change much. People are who they are, evolved and mature or not. Often, it isn’t the circumstances that decide who a person is, it’s something much greater.
Look around, and you will see that no matter what age they are, many of the people you know have youthful qualities to them. My mother and grandmother are perfect examples of this, and maybe yours were, too. Or, perhaps your father or grandfather, an aunt, uncle, mentor or friend’s parent. The problem is that most people ignore this factor, favoring fixed attitudes about age and aging. For example, I recently observed someone mocking an elderly parent’s “to do” list, acting as if it was going to be such a drudgery and a ridiculous waste of time to do things for their parent, such as change the vacuum’s belt, empty the gutters, check the furnace filters…laughing at the parent’s needs and content of requests. Such strategies seem like veiled attempts at ascendancy, to make one feel superior in some way. However we take it, we can only hope to reach such a mature age, where we need to ask for help, which is never an easy thing for anyone to do.
Even middle-age people are recipients of age-discrimination. The one that always strikes me resides in the romantic focus, most notably in the way men approach me. As a young woman, I received unwanted attention from men wherever I went. It was so obsessive, it was annoying. It often made me uncomfortable, even though I knew I should take it as flattery. The thing is, you have to want to be flattered to feel flattered. I could not sit in a restaurant without some man’s eyes distracting me from my company, nor leave an establishment without men’s heads turning to follow me. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative or conceited, it’s just the way men were during my youth, or were with most young women, as far as I could tell.
Now, on the other hand, I may as well be invisible for all the attention I garner. Men practically don’t even see me in most spaces. They almost never ogle me and rarely if ever flirt with me, unless they themselves are like 90. I like this change though, as I am not one for public attention–but, it is incredibly obvious. If I go to the store with my daughter, they now give my daughter the same sort of looks and attention they used to give me. Sometimes I even find myself muttering under my breath, “You men are SO transparent!” Wherever we go, if there is a man involved, my daughter will get favors and things for free. An oil change, a flight upgrade, you name it. On the other hand, I have morphed into the proverbial chopped liver. All I can say is that in a way I feel sorry for my daughter…and for all young girls (well, I guess except for the free stuff). Unless a person is narcissistic, who wants this level of attention offered by strangers? I always found it rather intrusive and unnecessary.
Of course, age discrimination is not exclusively male to female. In any size group of woman whether it be two or twenty, the younger ones usually clamor toward each other, which leads to excluding older woman in undeniable ways. Young mothers, for example, will read the works of or elicit the advice of other young mothers about every topic A to Z before ever considering to solicit any advice whatsoever from older, more experienced mothers, whether it be breast-feeding or a sick baby. If you don’t find this to be true across the board, take a look at nearly any social media forum or watch more closely at any baby shower or bridal shower or workshop anywhere. And forget about unsolicited advice. If I tell my kids anything such as what courses to consider in college , they’re likely to tell me, “Mother, I need to learn these things for myself!” I mean, I was only a life long student and professor. What do I know of such things? My students were more eager to follow my advice than my own children were. Again, it probably has something to do with that age thing.
Age discrimination goes both ways. Reticence with “the elderly” just doesn’t always make a lot of sense to me. Somehow, I have always valued older people and been interested in what they have to say. I am not sure how I learned to value them, or how generations x, y, (and likely z) learned not to, but sometimes this just appears to be the cold, hard truth. It also seems as though awareness goes a long way in how one sees things. The more distracted or self-absorbed a person, the narrower their field of vision appears to be. I feel sorry for people who exclusively favor their peer group, because both old and young miss out on a lot of valuable information and experience. Sometimes young people amaze me with their wisdom and insight. It makes me understand why they seem oblivious to us oldsters. Still, I would be a better woman today if I had spent more time with my grandmother in her garden, or watching her bake bread, which she did better than anyone I have ever known.
Here is The Truth
The truth beyond age discrimination is that, at least for me, I do not mind being 58 years old at all. I wish I didn’t lose eight years of my life to a dreadful condition, but now that I am back to the business of living life, the only part that bothers me is the not having as much energy as I once had. Of course, people always discount the real contributor and say: “Well, you ARE getting older!” Hmm, let’s see, 35 years old plus 15 would make me 50 years old today–exactly back where I started before losing 8 years. Even all this denial has become familiar and is not in the end so bad, because the head injury did make me a lot lazier than I was before it. I don’t mind sitting around so much now…even though I’d rather be like the old “old me” getting most of what I wanted to get done done, setting the world on fire with passion and verve.
Being “old” really is not so bad at all, and everyone just needs to realize this. When one has an active mind, a full heart and a joy in living, age just does not matter. Last night, for example, we attended a housewarming party where we were among some of the oldest guests–you know, the dinosaurs from another era. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the music, the dance party, the conversation, the food, the energy, even the tattoo art, surely as much as any guest present. When my husband and I attend a concert, a fun run or walk, a hiking trail, an organized bike ride, a workout facility, a shopping mall, or even a birthday party, we are nearly always among the oldest guests. We don’t have this problem so much at the movies, because we usually go to the matinee where all the oldsters hang out. We notice that we are among the oldest, or often the oldest, but we always congratulate ourselves for trying, for participating, for being able to participate.
With age comes so much self-satisfaction and wisdom. I have actually never been so comfortable with myself or who I am. After a lifetime of having to compete, measure up, worry, fret, stew, and work until I could not see, I can finally just breathe. No one is looking my way anyway. Sometimes, not even me. I rarely wear makeup now; I spend a lot less time in the mirror or getting ready for an event. All of this is a pretty great feeling. No one cares much what I am wearing. No one cares about my gray hairs or wrinkles…for sure, they are all too busy worrying about their own. Or if they are like me, too busy not worrying.
Life is About Enjoying the Ride
Life is About Being You, Whoever You Are, However You Are
This is Day 25 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue
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