senior-woman-skiing

I’m Not Aging “Well” — I’m Getting Old, Goddammit

“I’m taking a page from Martin Luther King: ‘I have a dream that one day elders will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tautness of their muscles but by the content of their character.'”

People used to think of growing old as part of the natural progression of life from birth to death. Not anymore. Now we go directly from middle age to you’re-just-as-old-as-you-feel.
 “Old age” has been dropped from our vocabulary. “You’re not old!” people say when I describe myself that way. I’m 74 with an assortment of age-related ailments and a generous complement of sags and wrinkles. If I’m not old, who is?

Today, we’re supposed to age “well.” The term is fraught with expectations that I, for one, can’t meet. If I’d belonged to an earlier generation, I’d have been expected to retire to the proverbial rocking chair on the porch — but my age mates are not going gently into that good night. Older people in the 21st-century expect to be able to ski, play tennis, run marathons, bicycle, swing dance and even sky dive indefinitely. These days, if you slow down with age it’s your own fault. It means you’re not eating right, working out, taking the right supplements, thinking positive enough.

The Boomer generation was going to live fast and die young. We’re still living fast but we’re not dying young — so we live as fast as possible as a way to pretend that we’re not going to die at all. Unfortunately, those of us who are suffering the physical and mental ravages of age are an uncomfortable reminder to our more youthful peers that they, too, will one day grow old.

I am assailed daily with stories of elders who do amazing things at advanced ages — run marathons at 85, teach yoga at 90, bungee jump at 96. These stories are supposed to be inspiring. I find them depressing. I will never do any of those things. The rest of us old folks — those who actually suffer from common ailments of aging such as arthritis, heart disease or emphysema — feel left behind in the mad rush to never get old. I wind up wanting to stay home, because in this age-well-or-you’re-worthless world, struggling to keep up is humiliating.

Many people in their 70s do not have physical limitations. They can do everything they did at 50, and more power to them, but not being one of them makes me and a lot of other seniors feel like pariahs among our peers.

I have a 77-year-old friend with spinal stenosis, a common and painful ailment of older people. She is unstable on her feet and can’t get around without a walker. She is very sociable but refuses to go out because she’s ashamed to be seen with her walker. The ageism that makes her afraid to be seen with a walker winds up further marginalizing older people who are already segregated from the mainstream. It’s no wonder that loneliness is becoming an epidemic among seniors.

Even retirement communities advertise themselves as for the “active senior.” If you’re not active, you’d better find somewhere else to live.

It’s time that the media stop fishing for clicks with their stories of older people engaging in extreme sports and focus on celebrating seniors who find a way to live well despite physical limitations — people like Carmen Herrera, who sold her first painting at 89, or Barbara Beskin, who landed her dream job as an industrial designer in Silicon Valley at 90; or even seniors like Joe Bartley, who got bored with retirement and was thrilled to be hired as a waiter at a local diner at age 89.

It’s also about time we seniors stop judging each another by how “youthful” we act or look.

I’m taking a page from Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that one day elders will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tautness of their muscles but by the content of their character.”

Erica-Manfred-Senior-Planet

 

Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook

 

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9 comments
  • Brenda Dyck
    REPLY

    Although Monica Manfred hits the nail on the head (in many respects) with this article I would have liked her to delve more into the end part of her revised Martin Luther King quote (“I have a dream that one day elders will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tautness of their muscles but by the content of their character”.
    Here she alludes to the importance of exploring, in these senior years, the “content of character”. This is no small thing. Thankfully author David Brooks addresses what she began in his article “The Bucket List”. Here Brooks suggests that after a life time of collecting professional accolades, now is the time to explore how to finish well, to spend time learning how those unique individuals (from history or today) who radiate character got that way.
    I highly recommend reading article it will make you think differently about eldering.
    mobile.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html
    – Brenda

  • Elizabeth Rogers
    REPLY

    I skip the “aging well” stories now–hooray for the 90 year old mountaineers and skydivers, but they’re not me. I think it comes down to “aging as well as you can”, and that’s different for each individual. I’ll be 80 in a few weeks. Except for a couple of minor nuisance ailments, I was doing pretty much as I always had up until about a year ago. Then, I developed a few semi-major nuisance ailments like spinal degenerative disorder, scoliosis and osteoporosis (the latter had been developing for 5-10 years, but my stomach can’t take handle any of the black-box drugs advertised to treat it). The doc says I have no rotator cuff in my right shoulder and the left is “iffy”. It’s getting harder to do almost everything, and that’s just a fact. I do NOT much like this situation, but it is what it is.

    My husband (87) and I still live in our own home with our 3 cats and do most of our own housework, grocery shopping, errands, etc., so we’re luckier than many older people, so far. However, we can no longer do the heavier yard work without help. I still walk most days, try to do my back exercises and be as active as I can. I wasn’t particularly athletic in my younger years, although I was definitely a high-energy person. Where that woman went, I have no idea but I miss her.

    I hope your daughter-in-law reported that young doctor. Sounds like he’d be an enthusiastic supporter of Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels”! I think he’s in the wrong profession.

  • Charlotte Dion
    REPLY

    Finally! Thank you for writing this As an early boomer, I am sick to death of articles about second careers, marathons, beauty contests etc. I am much happier having breakfast with a friend than standing on a packed commuter train, ,or that I am grateful to the younger person who offers me a seat on the train when I’m tired. I have osteoporosis and arthritis and though I do moderate exercise, I adjust to avoid risks. And where once I did six things in a day, I’ll now do three. Above all, I wish society would focus on the needs of those oldest Americans who are sick. isolated, often without family nearby, and going broke trying to pay for care not covered by insurance. There is a tsunami coming at us. and we are too busy chasing our youth to pay attention.

    • Elizabeth Rogers
      REPLY

      Amen! Me too! At 80, I’m “beyond Boomer”. I was working and doing fine physically until I hit 78, at which point “stuff” began to happen. Nothing totally debilitating yet, but let’s just say that I no longer feel young. The nonprofit I worked for went bankrupt and I lost my job at the end of 2013. Now I’m not sure I could keep up physically even IF I could find another job which, realistically, I have zero chance of doing. I live in a high-tech area where anyone over 35 is “old”. So, it is what it is. . .my husband and I have enough income to survive (we hope), but there’s not much left once the bills are paid and essentials are bought.

      I SO agree that our society is not elder-friendly and will be considerably less so under The Orange Apparition who will take office as President in a few days. At 70 he should be more attuned to elders’ needs, but I see no indications that he is. He and his superrich family and Cabinet, as well as many wealthy members of Congress, operate under the Ayn Rand philosophy, “I’ve got mine–too bad about you.” I’m very concerned about what Paul Ryan has in mind for Medicare and Social Security.

  • sharon brenard
    REPLY

    I love aging well stories and people that avoid the stereotypical old lady/old man issues. At any age, there are people who can’t be physically active or become physically challenged due to aging and other medical issues. Personally, I rather like t\hearing about those people as well as the ones you mentioned in the article who sound a lot like the aging well folks you say aren’t everyone.

    • Deborah
      REPLY

      I so agree with you Sharon. Congrats to all the senior super heros but some of us are seniors just trying to survive. Financially I will be forced to work until they kick me out due to a lifetime of money related mistakes and missed opportunities due to bad choices in men and helping my kids. It’s a struggle every day to get up and go to work and hit the treadmill at the gym and try NOT to worry about how I will live when I do stop working. There will be many of us in this same lonely, physically challenged and medically forgotten world very, very soon. I think people just don’t realize this country is not concerned with their elderly and they just expect us to pass on due to fighting the system and existing the best we can. Good luck sweetie.

  • Deborah Burcham
    REPLY

    I just turned 65, and considered that Birthday to be the day when I officially became invisible. It’s been a gradual progression, and has it’s advantages, but it’s quite disconcerting at times.
    I’ve not aged well over the past decade due to health problems and the stress of care-giving, and I feel embarrassed that I don’t look 40 or 50 (by today’s standards) and see constant ads on tv showing seniors looking young and vibrant. Now don’t get me wrong – I get around just fine and can do most things I’ve always done., but I’m a bit clumsier, a lot heavier, have lots of wrinkles and my hair is graying. The woman that looks out through my eyes into the mirror every morning, however, feels the same as she did when I was very young, so it’s difficult to find that I’m treated differently now. I’ve developed new interests in art journaling and mixed media, and have a desire to get out there and interact with others who have similar interests, but find myself reluctant to reveal myself as “older” on Instagram or other online venues for fear of becoming invisible there as well.

    I actually think of my gray hair and wrinkles like “battle scars.” I’ve earned each and every one and should be able to wear them proudly instead of wishing to have them covered up, pumped up or surgically removed, like so many people do these days. I read about the days when “crones” , or “elders”, were respected and considered wise and sage-like, and I chuckle to myself, because back then a crone was probably younger than I am now. Our culture has rendered “elders” irrelevant, and even sometimes a nuisance. Nuisance example – My daughter-in-law’s dad is 69 and suffering from a very debilitating disease as well as a heart condition after being a firefighter for many years. At one point when in an emergency room, he and his wife were told by a young doctor that he, as a Baby Boomer, is part of the problem with health care today. I suspect that young doctor and many others like him would not even be here we’re it not for Baby Boomers.

    But I digress into unintended bitterness. I’m not really bitter. Aging is a natural part of life and it sucks that I’m not pulling it off as well as others, but I’m here and will keep on learning and trying new things as long as I can. Im sure my “invisibility cloak” will come in handy now and then.

  • Maria pena
    REPLY

    This are interesting stories. I retired 2 year ago . I am learning to drow . I enjoy gym and dancing, I want dedicate my self probably to write. I am learning many thing now.

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