You’re not going to believe this—I’ve just had a thought that’s contrary to any shred of sanity. I’d been reflecting on the big birthday party coming up, where husband Rick and housemate Eve are celebrating their 70th. And out of the blue I said to myself, I can’t wait until I turn 70.
Wait on!—where did that come from?
The thought had nothing do with the fun of a party. I’m not someone who much likes big parties and that’s unlikely to change. But the truth is, I’ve fallen under the spell of the book that I mentioned in last week’s post, called “What are Old People For?” I had just been reading this spirited paragraph:
“We are stumbling into an era that is blessed with the largest group of (potential) elders the world has ever seen. They are well educated, materially secure, healthy, and socially engaged…The battle over the meaning and worth of our longevity will remake our world…”
That inspired me. I also thought about Eve’s recent blog post where, coming up as she is to her 70th birthday, she lays claim to the world “old”. That’s bold, I thought. Bold and accurate and inspiring.
It’s not that Eve or author William Thomas or I idealise old age. It’s not for the faint-hearted, as they say, and I’m sure we all freely admit that. But it has its rightful place, and it does have its own rewards. Perhaps I’m becoming ready to claim them.
When I turned 60
There was a maxim I learned when I was a kid that went like this: Life divides into three chunks: age 1-30—young; 30-60—middle-aged; 60-90+—old. You know how those neat bits of wisdom stick with you? Perhaps that explains why, as I was approaching my 60th birthday eight years ago, I came across a significant integrity issue. My decade change was no secret to my friends; after all, many of them were “of an age” themselves and besides, they liked me in spite of my decrepitude.
But at work was a different matter: I found I didn’t want to tell a soul. My covert calculations revealed that I was probably the eldest of the 50 or 60 of us on staff. The hair dyeing had become more frequent and I’d begun avoiding conversations about age. I was sure that if co-workers knew I was 60, I’d be marginalised. I’d be lumbered with the perception of past-her-prime, can’t-carry-a-full-load. It’s not that I wanted to carry a full load, but I didn’t want to risk being perceived as unable. I needed to stay top dog.
As I thought about this integrity issue, two voices warred in my head. Bad Voice was telling me I could get away with it; no one needed to know. But Good Voice was nattering away that I needed to be honest and matter-of-fact about it all, and put this denial behind me. Somehow Good Voice talked me into making a promise, which went like this: every time something came up at work and I had the “uh-oh-I’m-turning-60” thought, I had to somehow weave my upcoming birthday into the conversation. Clients, workmates, suppliers, whoever. It was the only way I could see of taking the edge off the irrational fear.
The very day after making this rash promise to myself, the management team went out for dinner. At one point colleague Julia, the COO, took a long breath and said, “Can you imagine this? – I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks.”
Well, guess what thought promptly popped into my head?
Good Voice and Bad Voice debated fiercely about keeping the promise for several nano-seconds, while everyone commiserated with Julia. Good Voice prevailed. “Can you imagine this?” I said. “I’m turning sixty in a few weeks.”
And that was it. I was out of the closet. The world didn’t fall apart, and over the following weeks people began saying nice things like, “I want to be like you when I’m sixty.” Mission accomplished.
(In hindsight I’m not sure I was claiming the ground of being 60. To be honest, it was more like claiming the ground of “Who’d have guessed she’s sixty?”, which is not the same thing at all. But it was a step.)
I tell this story because William H Thomas, the author of the book that’s been energising me, would call me a product of our times: resisting age and out of touch with the inevitability, indeed the rightness, of aging—not to mention the possible benefits. He takes the view that in our obsession with glorifying youth, we have lost sight of the gifts and privileges of old age. He develops an interesting theory that adulthood, with its age-appropriate qualities of busy-busy, accomplish, achieve, acquire, do-do-do, has elbowed its way into all of childhood and all of old age. He notes that children and old people rightly have little interest in this driving, acquisitive approach. Thomas asserts that the more “being” oriented energies of childhood and old age are being drowned out by adult hyperactivity. (This goes a way toward explaining, he posits, the strong bond between grandparents and grandchildren.)
So in many ways I’m a classic adult. I have a good friend who reminds me frequently that I am very accomplished at doing. The problem is that she’s not offering it as praise. This friend is much better than I at just being with people, at meditating, at walking quietly by herself, taking time for observing, philosophising, drawing conclusions. She’ll likely step into elderhood with more grace, ease and purpose than I’ve so far been able to muster. Calling me good at doing is her way of reminding me that there’s another world I’ve been turning my back on.
So what I’ve glimpsed in today’s revelation is the relief of stepping into reality. No botox required, no resistance, no costly denial. Only a brand new way of looking at the world.
I’m ready for Thomas’ call to arms:
“Given the immutable fact of aging (yours and mine included), a new appreciation of longevity seems very likely to emerge. When it does, it will lead millions to question, challenge, and, finally, overthrow the doctrine of youth’s perfection.”…. “Such a crusade is necessary not because it can right wrongs that are visited on older people but because it is the essential precondition for a new culture committed to a better quality of life for people of all ages.”
The revolution is ON!