Growing old: better than the alternatives
I enjoyed this article in the Wall Street Journal recently entitled “The ‘New’ Old Age is No Way to Live”. In it the author rejects the idea of following his Baby Boomer brethren in continuing to exercise daily, being hugely productive, and just generally being in denial of their age. From the article:
We are advised that an extended life span has given us an unprecedented opportunity. And if we surrender to old age, we are fools or, worse, cowards. Around me I see many of my contemporaries remaining in their prime-of-life vocations, often working harder than ever before, even if they have already achieved a great deal. Some are writing the novels stewing in their heads but never attempted, or enrolling in classes in conversational French, or taking up jogging, or even signing up for cosmetic surgery and youth-enhancing hormone treatments.
The rest of the article is devoted to describing his trip to the Greek island of Hydra to research how to grow old. There are lots of philosophical references as well as counter-intuitive defenses of being set in your ways and how striving is empty-headed. Whatever, it’s his column. Personally, I like changing my mind about things and striving.
The point I want to make is this: there are far too few people coming out and saying that getting old can be a good thing. It can be a fun thing. Our culture is so afraid of getting old, it’s almost as bad as being fat on the list of no-nos.
I don’t get it. Why? Why can’t we be proud of growing old? It allows us, at the very least, to hold forth more, which is my favorite thing to do.
Since I turned 40 I’ve stopped dying my hair, which is going white, and I’ve taken to calling the people around me “honey”, “sugar”, or “baby”. I feel like I can get away with that now, which is fun. Honestly I’m looking forward to the stuff I can say and do when I’m 70, because I’m planning to be one of those outrageous old women full of spice and opinions. I’m going to make big turkey dinners with all the fixings even when it’s just October and invite my neighbors and friends to come over if my kids are too busy with their lives and family. But if they decide to visit, and if they have kids themselves, I’m going to spoil my grandkids rotten, because I’m totally allowed to do that when I’m the grandma.
Instead of lying about my age down, I’ve taken to lying about my age up. I feel like I am getting away with something if I can pass for 50. After all, why would I still want to be 30? I was close to miserable back then, and I’ve learned a ton in the past 10 years.
Update: my friend Cosma just sent me this poem by Jenny Joseph. For the record I’m wearing purple today:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.