Thursday, January 22, 2015
How old is too old?
Last week I celebrated another birthday. I use the term “celebrate” loosely. In this seventh decade of life, I am struggling with enjoying aging and the losses that accompany it. And I’m not alone, so I know that I just exposed the elephant in the room. The truth is that aging gracefully is an art that many of us have yet to master.
Some things don’t bother me at all. I enjoy having young people open heavy doors for me at shopping centers and saying, “After you, ma’m.” A senior discount at restaurants is nice. It’s great that I no longer have to pop out of bed at the crack of dawn to be at work by 7 a.m. And I’m happy if I’m not invited to every party in town.
I started turning gray at 40, so I don’t even miss my beautiful black hair with red highlights. At this age—except for the ‘natural’ blonds among us—our hair all looks alike anyway. In fact, I joke that when my friends get together we look like Q-tips! And while I’m not happy about my wrinkles, I’m not contemplating plastic surgery.
I am, however, being pulled kicking and screaming into an era of less energy and forgetfulness. Or, as I believe Erma Bombeck (my all time favorite columnist) said, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most!”
Isn’t that the truth? Once we reach the age of 70, most of us look back fondly on our golden years. The years in which we remembered everyone’s names and wondered what the heck was wrong with our parents who struggled to remember names of people and places. “Oh, that was Virginia, don’t you remember?” we would piously spout.
Now we are the ones struggling with memory lapses. My husband and I often have a conversation that goes like this:
Me: “Yesterday I saw the girl with six kids that we went to church with in California.” Hubby: “ Who was that?” Me: “Oh, you know, she had long red hair and lived near us.” Hubby: “I have no idea who you’re talking about.” Me: “Of course you do. our daughter used to babysit for them. Her husband was a pharmacist.” Hubby: “Oh, yeah, his name was…I forget.” Three days later we remember that her name is Jan and his name was Jim. It's frustrating.
I suppose that turning 100 years old is something to get excited about. As a reporter, I covered many a centenarian’s birthday. Most of them seemed quite content to just “be.” They are happy to look at where they’ve been and reminisce about the good old days with anyone who cares to listen. Their contribution is wisdom.
Fortunately, I’m not there yet. I often say that I am in the middle age of old age. Mentally I’m pretty active. I’m always planning our next trip, keeping up with what’s going on in the family, volunteering, teaching and writing. Physically, I’ve really slowed down. Exercise no longer consists of a three times weekly aerobics class and seven mile hikes or bike rides. Now I have a stretching routine, walk the dogs over to Wilson Creek Park and hop on my stationary bike.
I’m not alone in my aging frustration. Many others wonder if there is life after 70 or 90. Surely there is something more for us to do than watch TV. It can’t be too late for us to make a contribution to the greater good of mankind. So when are we “too old”? At what age do we sit back and say, “I give up. Let someone else do the work.”
Tucked away in a book on my desk, I found this list of famous people who didn’t know it was time to stop being creative or sharing what they do best when they turned the corner into old age:
At 81, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin engineered the diplomacy that led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
At 82, Winston Churchill wrote the four-volume work, “A History of the English Speaking Peoples.”
At 82, Leo Tolstoy completed “I Cannot Be Silent.”
At 83, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe completed “Faust.”
At 88, Cellist Pablo Casals was still performing cello concerts
At 89, Pianist Arthur Rubinstein gave one of his greatest recitals in New York’s Carnegie Hall.
At 90, Cubist and collage artist Pablo Picasso still drew and sculpted.
At 91, Samon de Valera served as president of Ireland.
At 93, George Bernard Shaw wrote “Farfetched Fables.
At 98, Renaissance master Titian painted “Battle Lepants.”
At 100, Grandma Moses was still painting. She began at age 76!
Looking at the above list kind of makes me feel like a whiner. Sure I’m older and I can’t do the things that I used to do. But am I old enough to do nothing? Obviously not. Looking at the above list tells me that we have something to share at every age.
When we were young, we waited for life to begin. We were always looking forward to next week, next month and next year. Now that we’re older and have less time, our fountain of youth has changed. It is found in today. Tomorrow may not come. Our joys must be found in the moments of today.
The struggle against aging may be futile but we can still live a full life. As my husband likes to say, “Old age is putting on new wheels and going in a different direction.” I say that we just keep doing what we love…but at a slower pace.
My morning mantra comes from the Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” An attitude of gratitude can make any day better.
Can I get an Amen?
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.