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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

being old means what?

For me, comments were especially interesting on the last blog regarding aging. I liked the diverse opinions others had on this topic. For some people old age seems to have a different meaning than it has for me. It appears to be seen as a time where a person is decrepit, maybe losing mental skills. Young is good. Old is not. I believe that is a product of our culture more than anything else, which Ronni Bennet over at 'Time Goes By' (linked alongside here) comments on regularly.

I am comfortable with calling myself old, and I think there are several reasons for that. The first comes from having been close to a lot of elders in my life. They were people who took vacations to Europe and Hawaii for the first time in their 70s and 80s. People like my mother, who learned to drive at 68 on a stick-shift truck. When my mom was in her 80s, and looking after this farm when we weren't here, she chased the young bulls back into their pasture, breaking a hoe over the back of one. Why would I worry about calling myself old with examples like those?

On the personal side, I have come to see old age is a time where I can relax and not have expectations for what I should do or be. Before that, there were so many and they got me through the years-- not in a negative way but just it's what was. Get an education. Get married. Choose careers. Build homes. Have kids. Raise the kids. See them in college. Help them start their own families. Fail at any or all of those. Suddenly with old age there was nothing more I 'had' to do. That did not mean life was over but just a freeing up. Expectations were behind me.

As Old Lady in the Hills mentioned in comments and I have also been aware given my own family, I could have 30 years ahead. Elders choose all kinds of options for those years. Some start a career they wanted before but for assorted reasons were unable to do. Given much of the attitude in the workplace to the old, this works best when you can start your own business. Others put time into charitable work that their earlier obligations didn't permit. Some get a degree, move to a foreign country, learn to ride a horse properly and go on a trail ride into the wilderness (that was a 70 something in Tucson). What we can do will relate more to general conditioning, accidents, diseases, and staying as active as possible than it will to old age alone. Anybody can lose all of their abilities at any age to disease or accidents-- or even to losing enthusiasm for living.

What is unique to old age is the body does wear out. There is no denying it happens; and if we try to do all we could have done at say 30, after we get old, our body will rebel. There comes a time, even for marathon runners, where denial of the aging body will lead to injuries. Some of what that involves will be dependent on what you like doing. Katherine Hepburn could swim daily in the ocean off Maine coast well into her 80s. For playing professional football, you are out of the game far earlier. Little by little I have seen that I don't have the strength I earlier had. It's not a big deal yet, but it's the beginning of a process.

Where it comes to food, not only can our body abruptly let us know something we always ate no longer works, but also find out it is going to put pounds on us because of metabolism changes. To eat a lot of fat as a kid seemed to work; to eat fat as an elder leaves me not feeling so good and with heartburn. I think this awareness of recalibrating our activities comes gradually but denying it won't stop it.

Writing about this has made me wonder if women are more comfortable with the stages of life than men given we come into womanhood (our culture would still call us girls) with menstruation. When we get past our fertile years, the monthly cycle stops. Bodily production of hormones is reduced and stopped. Is that related to attitude? How we react to it is, but basically it's a product of getting old. Men have less testosterone, although it's not as big an immediate shift for them. Women even have ours named by somebody-- The Change.

What I believe is that physical old age is a fact, not an attitude. The attitude so many fear is that they will stop being able to enjoy life. That can happen in their 20s. We don't have to claim we are still young at 60 to see old age as a fun time, a place to try new things, to learn. It is our choice what we make of it. Whether you say your body is old, it is what it is; and you can't fool others even with plastic surgeries. You can call yourself young at heart if you see youth as the ones to admire in terms of their hearts, but why isn't it the old at heart? I like old people, always have; and therefore, see their hearts as the ones to admire because they have the compassion and wisdom of experience behind them. Are all old people like that? Of course not, but they were the ones I now want to be like.

At the other end of old age is death, and old age should be a time of preparing for that in the most positive way through working out our spiritual beliefs, so when our time to pass over comes, we are not afraid. We can make arrangements for how we want to have our bodily remains dealt with, how much end of life care we want. Those things can be dealt with when we are at the beginning of old age and unless we change our minds, forgotten until it becomes an issue.

I have found some really cool things about being old. I dream dreams. I have time to dream them, paint them, and research them. I can take more time to think through ideas, to learn things. Through writing and art I can share what I have seen of this life with others. There are advantages to this period of life physically. For instance I don't have to worry that I don't look good in a mini skirt. I am not supposed to look good in one; so if I do, it's a bonus.

Next blog will be a bit superficial, I guess. It will not be about aging attitudes, which I think are key to changing the meaning of old age-- things like staying flexible, interested in life, taking risks, experiencing new things, and most of all not so much looking backward but rather forward. However, the next blog will be purely on facial looks-- what I do to keep my face looking as good as possible cuz having had an old, sexy grandma, with boyfriends still after her in her 70s, I know you don't have to stop looking attractive just because you got old. And on a personal note, I still like seeing a man watch me and knowing I pleased his eyes. I don't plan on giving that up until I have to!


Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful post, Rain, and because women are physically and psychologically made to give birth and raise the children, I think we do age more easily. Some of my male friends who do not have wives seem to have a harder time than most women I know. They are used to having a woman care for them--and women by and large these days in the U.S., anyway, are usually able to care for themselves with or without man. I do get discouraged sometimes with how I look in comparison to how I used to look, but when I did look good, I didn't appreciate myself then. I was simply never good enough. I am more accepting of myself as I am in my later years, with or without a man. It would be nice to have a man companion, but everytime I even try to date anymore, I'm aware that I like my life how it is and I'm not up for the big-time compromises I used to make. I'm rambling, but your post made me think.

Christine Boles said...

Hello, Rain~
found your blog while 'hopping'~ would you mind if I posted some of your insights on my "Epiphany" blog?
At 39, I've been preparing for the inevitable aging, and your attitude is right up my alley!

By the way~ you get major bonus points/gold stars for using the word, "epiphany" so many times, in your last entry! :)

Dick said...

My Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary has twelve paragraphs that describe the word "old." The first one seems to fit the use here best. I guess it actually does go along with what you are saying, but I think it is still a matter of comparison and to quite a degree, an attitude.

1. advanced far in years or life; having lived beyond the middle period, or toward the end of the ordinary term of living; aged; as an old man.

We all are getting older, that is a fact, and I sure don't claim to really be young, but I guess maybe I am looking more at an attitude toward life than the number of years I have lived.

Rain Trueax said...

I think it is the attitude we are looking for, Dick. The thing is for some reason we want to be old when we get SS or medicare or discounts like the Senior Pass into the National Parks for a lifetime and only $10, but we don't like old any other time. I think it's because of negative press on what old is or maybe bad experiences with those we have met who were old and not enthusiastic about life. Those of us who are old now can change that by living our lives differently.

I still have problems with thinking that young is the ultimate criteria for when life was best. They weren't my best years. Were they yours? Maybe that's worth discussing all in itself. I was glad to get past being young and onto into mature adult

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

My husband agrees that aging is more difficult for males to accept because they have not gone through as many or as great a changes as women have. It is an idea I have not thought about.
Great thought provoking blog post.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Life was not better when I was younger. There were parts that were good but overall it was not better. Rain,when our husbands were graduate students, I have wonderful memories of walking and hiking as couples when we were college students. Later when we had small children we went camping on Vancouver Island. Then a few years back we went back over some og the same trails. These are remembered as being among the best times because we share these times. As you get older there are more shared memories to highten the quality of life.

Rain Trueax said...

Those were good years, Parapluie, and how great that we still have the friendship to enjoy more such :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, correctly.