When you’re a kid you think you are invincible and the thought of “growing old” is not even in your consciousness. When I tell childhood stories I sometimes want to describe people as an “older person” but then I have to pause and think, “Everyone seemed much older than they probably were”. So, I really don’t know if my description is accurate. Who knows, they might have only been in their 30s or 40s, but to a child that is pretty old. But it ‘s funny how your definition of “old” changes as you rapidly approach the age you considered old. I remember being so depressed when I turned 26 because I had passed that magical number of 25, which meant that I was closer to 30 than 20. In my mind, 30 was officially a “real adult” and, although I was a mother already by 19, I still thought that I was a kid. But, when I passed 30, then 40 became the new “old age” for me. Each decade, I raise the bar on what it means to be “old.” Since when did 40 become “young?’ How about 50? To me that is now “young” or at least still “young.” How many times have I heard myself saying lately, “They’re not that old”, referring to someone in their 70s. The fact remains that the world is geared to youth and no matter how “young” you think you look, feel, or act, you are not young, and you are often treated as such. People say that age is just a number, and you can remain “young at heart”, be active, athletic, keep yourself in shape, but time is rapidly advancing, and it seems the older you get, the faster the years go by. I remember endless summers, being the playground champ, spinning tops, playing Skelly, melting bottle caps on manhole covers, eating Good Humor sold by old man Joe, the ever present ice cream man. Then, going home for dinner only to go out again in the evening. I was athletic and that was my life during those magical summer days and nights. It seems almost as if those days were just yesterday, and I sometimes wake up and think, “how the hell did I get to be this old and when did this happen?” I remember hearing about “the Golden Years” but I have recently found myself thinking that is such a fallacy. Often the “golden years” are fraught with age-related illnesses, even if you think you are healthy. With aging often comes a gradual betrayal of your body. There are exceptions, and I believe that if you keep yourself in good physical condition, taking care of what is so precious, you may skip the extreme decline. But the thing about life is that unless you have a crystal ball, or a link to God, you don’t know what the future holds. I am a firm believer that we should live NOW, and not look too far into the future. The media is famous for preaching about the evils of retiring too early (taking your Social Security too soon). I laugh when I see these dire warnings because I know from experience that life is very fragile and you should take your happiness now, if you can, rather than later because later may never come.
When I was a child I remember thinking that in the far-off futuristic year of 2000 I would be “old” at the age of 48. How funny it is that one’s idea of what is OLD changes so drastically as we rapidly (and it happens so damn fast) approach the age that we thought was OLD before; we keep on re-setting the bar. I was really depressed when I was about to turn 26 because in my mind, once you passed 25 you were close to 30–that dreaded age. In the movie Planet of the Apes (which came out when I was 14) one of the characters famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”, which was the young people’s anthem during that time period. And how about that movie, “Logan’s Run” where nobody in that society was over 29 because you were “put out to pasture” at the ripe old age of 30. You know you’re getting older when you begin to think of 45 as “young” where you used to think of it as OLD. Each time I hit a milestone I want to believe that I am still young, and in my mind I am. In many cultures, an older person is respected, but not in the U.S. When was it decided that once you turn 50 or (God forbid) 60, you became less valuable than you were when you were younger? As I approached that dreaded age of 60, I felt less and less desirable, valuable, and worthwhile. I literally spent an entire year of my life dreading that number. I admit that part of that was my own prejudice derived from my impression of what an “older” woman was. But the media also perpetrates that age prejudice (except for celebrities—where age doesn’t seem to apply) where they lump everyone into the “senior” category once you turn 60. It’s strange that you could be 59 one day and then the next day when you turn 60, you are automatically deemed “elderly.” That word automatically conjures up people in rocking chairs, whiling away their “golden” years, waiting to die. Elderly implies that a person has no goals or dreams or aspirations. It implies that these people don’t know how to use a computer, or text, or use an iPad, or an IPhone, or other gadgets deemed too complex for their rapidly deteriorating brains. The image that one gets is of dumpy bodies, unable to run, spin, workout much (except the Silver Sneakers class). That whole picture could not be more wrong because just like anybody of any age, there are a great many variations of how each of us age. I for one was very debilitated before my spinal tumor was discovered, but before that I had been a vital and athletic woman of a certain age, and prided myself on it. When I was ambling along with my cane, I felt truly OLD, but anyone with a tumor compressing their spinal cord would have the same symptoms and probably felt the same way. Once the tumor was removed, my recovery was rapid and I returned to my workout regimen, gradually increasing it and one year later, I am almost back to pre-tumor form. But what I know for sure and I wish the younger set would understand, is that no matter what your age, you are an individual and if you were so inclined to be very goal oriented, and vital, you will not stop being so. I wish I could change society’s attitude about aging, but what is most important is changing my own attitude. Until I can look at myself (and the hell with other’s opinions) and feel beautiful (inside and out) nothing will change. I still have a long way to go, but the more I recognize my attributes and stop focusing on my physical flaws, the more I will learn to value and love myself. Like anything, that is a process and hopefully someday I will achieve this goal.