I remember an experiment from a class in business school. The prof asked us to line up by age. Then he asked: “Does age matter?” The few twenty-four to twenty-six-year-olds in our class said, “No.” Those of us over twenty-six thought otherwise. We’d already been bruised and scraped by life, and we’d learned something. What age had taught us mattered to us.
Now, on the eve of a big birthday, I’m asking the question again. Not “Does age matter?” but “How does it matter?” I already know that the answer looks different for everyone.
I entered my fifties with celebration. I called it my no-bullshit-decade because I had become older than most of the doctors I saw and no longer felt intimidated. My sixties augured in a wave of creativity and exploration. I learned that in some parts of the world, like China, the sixties are seen as a decade of expansion, not contraction. That was true for me.
But now? I am again asking the question as I prepare to enter the next decade. I’m at a loss at how to celebrate. Mostly I’m contemplating, trying to feel my way into it.
I hope friends spare me those “funny” birthday cards with stereotypes about life after fifty. I don’t need to see men with bulging waistlines driving golf courts and lamenting their youth or a gaggle of funky-looking older women kicking up their heels and making I-still-want-to-be-sexy jokes. (They are sexy-in their own ways–not like those cards.)
And don’t try to cheer me up with the video of a gymnast doing splits at ninety. I couldn’t do splits at nine and I’m not likely to start now. Even though I enjoy reading Twyla Tharp talking about her life, I’m not going to follow her example of waking every morning at five am to go to the gym for two hours of working out. The best this body can do at that hour is guzzle tea, although I’m with her that moving is important.
We each find what meaningful, creative aging looks like on us.
Can’t buy me youth
The world is trying to dupe us into believing that we can buy our way back to youth. We can’t. And we don’t need to.
I remember sitting next to my father when he was dying and looking at the wall of photographs behind his bed. There was Dad at twenty, goofing around as a Dartmouth College student; Dad in his late twenties, as a young captain in WWII; Dad at forty as a corporate guy and responsible father; and Dad at seventy as a loving grandfather. Then it hit me: Dad was all of his ages, even as he lay shriveled in bed at eighty-four.
We carry all of our ages within us, our youthful spirit along with our elderly wisdom. We don’t need to try to be young.
For me, aging is a dance between my hopes for the future and what I want to create, my joy in the present, and my sadness for what will never come again.
I know that some would say, “It’s all good,” and that’s probably, ultimately, true.
But I’d prefer not to have to make a 3 am call to 9-1-1, as I did last night for my husband. (He’s OK, thank you). Despite what we might prefer, bodies do change and that can bring challenges.
Still, it’s a gorgeous morning here with a blue sky, light clouds, and a cool breeze. The heat dome that almost melted the Northwest is thankfully gone. I went to our blueberries in my didn’t-sleep-enough-stupor and picked a few ripe ones. Then, as I plunked them into my mouth, I had a moment of ecstasy. I have so much to be grateful for.
My friends who live their lives fully without denying their ages inspire me. They teach me, in their ways, what aging looks like. It matters, yes, and it’s up to me to discover my own version.
And as my big birthday fast approaches (gulp), that is what I plan to do.