After reading this blog-- Age and Its Awful Discontents (?), I was going to write a comment there. My thoughts were so lengthy that I knew it'd never pass muster as a comment and decided to put it here instead as a blog on the topic. Ronni was writing about an article in NYT-- Age and Its Awful Discontents.
I felt torn on what I would say there about her thesis and the original one by Louis Begley. On the one hand, I do believe it's better to be positive. On the other hand, he's living his truth. He is openly saying what he feels is ahead for him after a very good life. Should he deny what he feels because it makes someone else more comfortable? Should he pretend he's happy to be looking old? Denying their reality is how many people feel about those suffering from depression-- take a pill or pretend you don't feel it to make the rest of us comfortable.
The thing he is experiencing is what elders do experience-- if they are aware. He's just admitting it. Whether it has to depress you, that's another story and I didn't feel he said it was depressing him. Just he could see the road ahead. He now better understood what his mother once felt. Today the talk is that 60 is the new 30. No, it's not. It's different. Going under the knife won't change that.
Recently I read a blog where the writer was feeling down on knowing things wouldn't get better. It wasn't whining. It was his honest feelings after some major health problems and knowing with old age, it wasn't going to be better as so often in life, he had felt it would. Now he might have been wrong on what would happen, but I didn't try to tell him that.
What I said (more or less) was when I get to feeling some of that, I think of this as part of a stage and cycle of life. Yes, the aches and pains of age won't be going away-- aspirin and glucosamine do help with it. The lessening of strength won't disappear-- although some of that can be temporary after an illness and will be better. We won't be back to what we were at thirty no matter what we do. Youthful, physical beauty won't come back-- not even with plasticating our faces.
What Begley was saying was he could now empathize with his mother as he finally understood more of what she felt. I understand what he felt about his regrets as I have some of them regarding my mother.
Mom lived on our farm in a mobile home. We took her to doctors and shopping as she had macular degeneration which meant she could get around but she 'read' through audio books from Oregon State library and she could no longer drive. Mom was not a complainer, but I was busy during those years. Kids in their teens. Often driving to town (20 miles each way) several times a day.
Then the kids were gone, but I still did not do for my mother what I could have done in being with her more often. We had holidays together, saw her daily, but she was alone a lot. There is no use in thinking back and bemoaning it; but I think of it now and then. I could have related more to her needs but Mom was not one to go to doctors nor to complain. I had my own life to lead...
Now my kids have their own life to lead, and I try to remember how it was with Mom and understand this is no time to get my feelings hurt. I have things yet to do before I sleep also. I do live an exciting life right now. That won't last. That's not depressed talk. It's reality. How long the good energy years last will differ for us all.
I related to what Begley said not as a whining but as an awareness. He's a writer; so he uses those awarenesses. He also was trying to put out that there are two sides to this last stage of life. Half the time the oldsters want to be taken as though they are as good as they ever were. Half the time they want special compensation for not being as good as they ever were. I think the best way to look at it all is be who you are and where you are. Live it fully. Don't anticipate the future in a negative fearful way and don't live in the past. The moment is all we have, any of us-- at any age.
In my own life, I have seen a lot of growing old-- with my older relatives (who are all dead now), with the livestock we raise and keep until they are geriatric, and with the many pets I have had throughout my life. What I think is that old age is different. It's not middle age. I can see and feel those differences beginning. I feel I am lucky to have gotten here as many I have loved never did.
For each of us, it is what it is. I could try to deny it, not live it fully, live in a fantasy about what it is-- negative or positive-- or I can do what I did in all the other stages-- live it fully, every bit of it and that means owning the aches and pains, the aging body, but also the many experiences and the wisdom I have accrued through those years. There is so much about it that I am enjoying to the nth degree. Some parts are less fun. But it's all real.
If Begley was to be a curmudgeon (the article didn't say he was), he probably won't find people wanting to be around him, and if that's okay with him, then it's his choice. But it won't be because he's old. It'll be because people like to be around someone pleasant. And frankly even if he was acting pleasant (even when he didn't feel it, his family still might not want to come around as they are busy with their own lives).
If an elder wants to live in their past, they can do that, repeat the same stories over and over, but again, they better be the type who enjoys solitude as most people will get tired of the stories they heard so many times. That's not because that person is old. It'll be because they are boring.
Elders who live actively in the present are interesting to be around because they are still doing things. I think young or old people search out certain kinds of people with whom to spend time. Elders don't get a pass on that. If someone is a person who likes to be around people, young or old, they better develop interesting topics they can talk about or be a great listener and share wisdom-- when asked.
My mother was that kind of old woman. When she found out my husband's mother loved a particular soap opera, my mother who hadn't seen soaps for years, she watched them to have something to talk about. When a person is old, they can read the newest book and be able to discuss it, have seen a good movie (assuming they can see) and doing those things in order to share is part of the key. It helps to draw people to them (if that's what they want) and also to stay interested in what's going on themselves.
Learning to listen to others can be a real key. Telling someone younger what to do, or not listening to what they say and only trying to turn each conversation to ourselves, none of that goes over well-- at any age. Stay interested and even if nobody shows up, life will be better.
I think this guy was sharing what he saw and he will be jumped on by those who want to deny the full experience of aging and turn it all into something enjoyable. I think it's more that way for some elders than others. Some of that is a person's temperament to begin. Some is their health.
Old age has its fun aspects. I felt it rewarding when I reached a point (when I turned 60) where I felt wow, I did it. I had a life. I lived it all mostly as I wanted. Some would say you should have done more. It depends on what they consider more. I followed my path. I raised children to adulthood who became responsible adults. I got to see my grandchildren. I had my share and then some of experiences and now it's my turn to come to the last act. The last act can have some misery attached. It is all important but it won't all be a pleasure.
Begley is a writer, something that encourages introspection. He uses what his life is and what he observes for his fiction. I saw the movie based on his book, About Schmidt, and thought it was wonderfully done but wouldn't want to see it again.
For a film on aging, I preferred Water for Elephants. We saw it last night. it began with an old man, who had had a full, rich life and didn't want to stop living it even though his kids weren't going to be any help. He shared his story, which is the bulk of the film, with a young man as a way to keep leading an active life. Hal Holbrook played the elder, and he got it.
Before I write a book here myself, I'll end but this is a topic that is, of course, of interest to me, since I am living it.