Growing older is not like falling off a cliff. It is not a surprise like finding thirty people hiding behind your couch on your 50th birthday. Aging is a gradual and inevitable transition from one year to the next. We are all aging, every day. So at what point do we become old and who gets to decide?
I have the advantage of being a gerontologist and an aging woman so I believe this gives me some credibility to speak candidly on the topic of aging. I’ve always felt like one of the “crowd” preferring the company of the old versus the young. As a matter of fact, I created my blog, A Piece of My Mind, to share my point of view on aging and to speak freely about everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing is off the table.
Growing older is not a linear path. It’s peaks and valleys. Caverns of grief and pain followed by the sheer delight in the tiny smile of a new grandchild or the comfort of an old friend who wags his tail when you enter the room.
It’s endings and beginnings and too many goodbyes. It’s life, not unlike the many decades before. Every year in life presents challenges and opportunities and the aging years are no different. There are many factors that influence the aging journey including lifestyle (yes, exercise is the best medicine for aging well), genes, attitude, environment, socioeconomic status, race, faith, and gender. Everyone’s aging but we are as unique as snowflakes. Numbers can’t capture us and names can’t define us.
No matter what you call us ( I prefer older adults) you can’t begin to capture the diversity of our spirits, minds, and bodies. That is for us to define and no one else. I do believe attitude and how we approach aging can influence our experience. I also acknowledge that many older adults are simply trying to meet their basic needs each day and aging successfully is marked by living one more day. Living in survival mode impedes thriving and puts these individuals at much greater risk, making them more vulnerable. The game has different rules for those who have less. Less money. Less support. Fewer options. I am in awe of those who rise above those circumstances. Who refuses to give up hope. They are the strong ones. The brave ones. My heroes.
This year I turned fifty-eight and I still wear a bikini (not because I look great but because I prefer a two-piece) and I don’t give a hoot what anyone thinks. I look pretty damn good and I love my age and the opportunity it presents me. But, there are days when I feel old. I mean literally. My feet hurt (I have arthritis), it takes me longer to get my joints going when I’ve been sitting too long and my neck is starting to look like Kathy Lee Giffords’. Is it ageist for me to admit to myself that I need longer to rest than I used to? Is it ok after a long walk, followed by an hour of hot yoga on Sunday that a nap feels delicious? I don’t always like what I see in the mirror but I have learned to avoid it. Once I’ve got my face on and hair in place, I don’t come back to visit. I accept that some changes can’t be stopped (paused or delayed maybe with some good skincare routines and plenty of sleep) but the clock keeps ticking …. I grow older by the minute. I acknowledge and I accept this fact. I just want to be the best version of myself and not fret over the loss of my younger self. I had those moments. I enjoyed the decades that brought me to this place. The exploration of the twenties, the transitions of the thirties, the empowerment and power of the forties, and now the I don’t give a fuck fifties. Yep, that’s what the fifties are and I can’t wait to see what the sixties bring. I plan on rocking that decade.
I put in the work and time it takes to care for my body, my mind, and my spirit. IT is work and requires discipline, not just motivation. I want to be ready and able to enjoy this next stretch of my life and I know that there is less of it to waste. I search for inspiration from people that grow older and keep doing what they love or start new passions once they have the time to devote to things that are most important to them. They reinvent themselves and they don’t let age stop them. I am a big music fan and this year my concert list includes musicians like Bonnie Raitt (72), Mavis Staples (83), Buddy Guy (86), and Santana (71). If these aging rockers can keep making music I know that anything is possible as I grow older.
I am not surprised that underneath this redhead is a lot of gray and that I can’t shop at Express anymore unless I want to look ridiculous. I am excited that in two years I will retire and can spend my days working out, reading, and writing more adventures on aging. I just want to realistically, enthusiastically, ambitiously, and bravely live the rest of my days on this planet.
When I leave this earth I will know I have lived it fully and I have no regrets. That sounds like something worth celebrating. Cheers to growing older! It beats the alternative.