I had lunch with a delightful friend today. She’s a vibrant, active woman who teaches a variety of dance as well as Pilates. She’s educated, committed–and no longer young. She has wrinkles. Her joints are starting to rebel against the years of stretching, flexing, and repetitive movement. Her blonde hair has lots of white. She dresses very well, is in excellent shape, and her latest interest is learning to do paddleboarding. She refers to herself as an aging hippie. She’s wonderful to be with, has lots of conversation; she’s creative, enthusiastic, and empathetic.
Our conversation eventually evolved to the problems of age, of course. I’m 65. I’m not sure how old she is. But what we both understand is that there is a huge prejudice against the older generation. We are bombarded with information on how to look, act, feel, and be perceived as youthful, above and beyond anything else. Don’t wear a watch; young people today look at their phones to see what time it is. Don’t let any grey hair show–it ages you. Do whatever you can to hide age spots, skin tags, facial hair, and the sad results of 65 years’ worth of gravity. Wear what the young women are wearing (even if it makes you look completely ridiculous) because it’s better to wear youthful clothing than to be perceived as matronly or–gasp–grandmotherly. Shudder.
Old people are no longer a contributing part of this society, unless of course they have money. I even know of a pastor who told a 60+ man that he really hoped that the “seniors” in the congregation would just gracefully fade to make room for the younger, more energetic people in the church. Another pastor said that “we just need to love on our seniors, really let them know how much we appreciate all that they used to do.” Good grief.
I don’t need to be “loved on.” Yech. What I do need is to be useful. I need to be free to share all I have learned in my 65 years. I’m healthy, my mind is still sharp, I don’t drool or fall asleep when I’m in the grocery store, and I’m still a very good driver. I’m well-educated, and I want to be a vital part of whatever community I belong to.
This is not a problem in my work. In fact, my aged grey head is a valuable asset in the counseling office, even when I’m working with teens. It’s funny, really, when a teen first comes in to my office. I can read in their eyes that they’re surprised to see someone as ancient as I am, still able to sit up straight and speak in complete sentences. It isn’t long before we’re actually enjoying each other. I have some very good friends who aren’t even 16 yet. Imagine that!
It’s not a problem in my family, either. My husband is strong and active, and a genius at his work. Our kids still seek his advice an a multitude of things. No one in the family treats us as if we no longer have any purpose except to “be loved on.” Our grandkids love to see us, and always have lots to tell us. They don’t look at us as if we’re something to be feared because we have spots and wrinkles and grey hair—in our noses 🙂 They love us, and it’s a genuine, non-patronizing joy in our company. How delightful.
It’s different in other places,. Elders are seen as not being attractive, therefore to be kept in the shadows. They’re seen as having gone past being able to offer anything, therefore overlooked and ignored. They’re told constantly that they need to look young, act young, be youthful, as if youth itself is a mark of character.
What I’m telling you as that the wrinkles, spots, and grey hair are the marks of character! It takes courage to grow old! Sissies will never survive it. You learn to live with chronic pain; you learn to accept that you can’t wear stiletto heels any more; that you have to wear a sweater when everyone else is not; that your vision fades, your hearing decreases, and you need to be more careful of what you eat. You need to exercise on purpose to keep your mobility, flexibility, and strength at peak levels. You can’t run up and down the stairs carrying a baby and avoiding the toy truck your toddler left on the bottom step. Your doctor talks to you about cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, diet and exercise. You have to go to bed a little earlier, and you don’t always sleep as well as you did at 20. Nature calls in the middle of the night, and you may even stop to put on your slippers because the floor is cold. And then, sometimes, you can’t get right back to sleep.
But the benefits? Well, I don’t make quite as many dumb mistakes as I did at 25. I’m slowly learning to think before I speak; that I don’t always have to win; that people may not care what I have to say, and that’s all right. I’m a little wiser than I used to be, and I know a lot of miscellaneous trivia that carries me through when conversation starts to get dull. I have more time to read, which I do voraciously. I read in my field of work; I read fiction; and I read Bible-related materials and the Bible itself more than I ever have before. Prayer is becoming a state of being, rather than a duty on my to-do list.
And I don’t fear death; I don’t dread it. In fact, I think I’ve even gotten past the fear of a long, painful death, because at the end of it I’ll be with the Lord, and it just won’t matter. There’s really not much I’m afraid of at all these days. Snakes, maybe.
I have more to offer now than I did 10, 20, or 50 years ago. Why, when a person has reached some semblance of maturity and common sense, is she no longer found necessary by our youth-centered society? Maybe if society would pay a little more attention to us, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.