Brief Thoughts on Aging and the Term “Old”

I understand how the term “old” is subjective for many and age being viewed as “just a number.” But, I think it’s healthy and important to reclaim “old” as not meaning something to feel afraid and/or ashamed of. It seems many people believe old to mean one is definitely about to croak and/or rendered irrelevant. Neither is true. And those who are ageist can be educated, if they’re open, or otherwise left alone to isolate in their ageism. Technically, I’m middle aged but, if I’m fortunate enough, I’ll manage to grow old. At that point in time, I intend to celebrate living into old age, whenever that happens to be. Growing older and wiser is the track I’m on, which includes being committed to staying healthy as best I can for as long as possible. Celebrating life every day is important, and not just when you’re young. My quality of life has only improved with age. I wish that to be the case for everyone.

5 thoughts on “Brief Thoughts on Aging and the Term “Old”

  1. With some exceptions (for reasons), since childhood, I’ve been at least fascinated by very old people; mostly, I’ve really liked and enjoyed those I’ve spent time with. And, unlike so many, I find much about their physical appearance very beautiful. (Though I admit I am having to work a bit harder to see that beauty in the inklings of the crooked fingers, veiny hands, wrinkles, sags, etc. I’m starting to see in this aging body, but even in my 20s I struggled to see much of beauty in an athlete’s body, so I don’t think I’m hypocritical.)

    Our culture is rich in some things, I acknowledge this. We could have been (and still have the potential to be) so much richer in so many more ways, both personally and collectively. We have robbed ourselves of the richness of the elders in nearly every way—

    We have rewritten the story of being old; no longer is an elder’s life saga worthy of more than passing attention at best (one that grows “sagacity” lol)—whether hero journeys, tall-tales, historical witnessing, morality warnings, etc.—No, we have made “getting old” into a nightmare story. What springs to mind is something that frightens so much that we don’t even want to name it—like cancer used to be whispered, “You know, she has the big C.” Or the way the wizarding world of Harry Potter referred to Voldemort as, “He who shall not be named.”

    So long as old people are physically and mentally functioning, the nightmare is more of a bad dream, kind of shaken off with denial of various sorts. One classic example: in social circles of every flavor one is likely to hear some 70 or 80+ hale, hearty person proclaiming, “70’s the new 50,” or “80’s the new 60.” The shadow is there, though, because if they live on but can’t function on their own, they disappear from the world they once knew. Whether becoming confused, frightened, lonely, and alienated because of neurological dysfunction/decline, or because their needs for companionship, or intellectual stimulation, or spirituality, etc. aren’t being met, many old people die in places full of people but feeling very much alone.

    When I was talking with some chaplains who work in nursing homes recently, and another who works in hospice, I surprised myself when I started crying as I talked about how we marginalize our old people, herding them into homes, etc. They don’t get any touch except from doctors; most have few visitors; and if they don’t like stupid parlor games or TV, uh oh. No wonder everyone finds nursing homes depressing!

    We’ve robbed ourselves of a wealth of not only elder’s wisdom and stories, and laughter (and-yes, grouchiness). In doing so, we’ve also deprived ourselves of the opportunity to learn to grow old naturally and gracefully instead of fighting it. To allow it to be what it is—part of the life cycle. Like Autumn and Fall trees, we in our old age too are beautiful and dignified, even if tinged with the bittersweet.

    It takes a different perspective than our acculturated one. A “beginner’s mind” as the zen Buddhists might say, or a young child’s curious wonder. I will NEVER forget the moment when I felt both my 4-year old son’s and my mother’s responses to one another when he was sitting in her lap one day stroking her cheek. Then he gently poked it with his finger and asked, “Grammy, why is your face all wrinkly?” My mother, obsessive about her body and age, but particularly about her facial wrinkles, went rigid, and John’s eyes widened suddenly as his small body stiffened. All that happened in the space of about 2 seconds, but it, and what followed is but one example of how this “old” nightmare perpetuates.

    Here’s to shifting perspective, embracing the gifts of growing old along with the pains, and remembering that it’s all a great big adventure, and much less scary if we do it together!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with all that you say here. And that is a powerful story about your son and mother. I appreciate how you end your comment with an expansion/growth orientation, a positive vision of what American culture (especially) can and should manifest with the beauty of growing old, together.

      Liked by 2 people

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