What’s it mean to be old & live well?
I find myself thinking about old age a lot lately. There are some cultural things that bug me about our attitudes. Rather than go down that list of what doesn’t feel right to me and never has, I’ll share my perspective – one I stand by and that somehow feels out of place in our society.
Growing into our wise ole selves is an amazing journey to be celebrated.
I WANT TO BE OLD!
(Disclaimer: I don’t want to wish away my years now.)
At the ripe age of 34 (ripe because I feel alive!) I reflect upon my life thus far, remembering moments from my early childhood in grandma’s lap asking questions about her wrinkles, visiting the hairdresser with her where they’d spray enough to hold her hair for days (& choke us in the meantime), to the grocery store where we’d pick only the best vegetables, and to the porch where we’d chat with the neighbors in lines of rocking chairs. These things were childhood comforts, to see grandma’s fabulous wrinkly skin & grey hair and be embraced in a hug. I realize how fortunate I am to have had such a relationship with my grandma. She passed away many years ago now, and I realize how much I miss her and how much my life, both personal and professional is missing those things I associate with old age: wisecracks, comments so truthful they startle while helping you realize what’s actually important in the world, and questions that remind you not to take things for granted and that it’s ok to have a beginner’s mind. It makes me smile just to think of her calling me ‘tall’ (I’m 5’1″ – ha!), asking me why in the world I would do ‘that’ (to whatever ‘that’ was at the time) or the simple quiet of rocking away into my daydreams on her front porch. I only hope I bring along a bit of her spunk as I get older, a process I’m looking forward to in a huge way!
I CAN’T WAIT TO HAVE LOTS OF WRINKLES! Wrinkles to me are to be celebrated. Our bodies are so amazing and they continue to be throughout the many many changes that happen over a lifetime. We oogle and awe over the first months of life, and I suspect I’ll be oogling and aweing until the last months of mine!
I LOVE MY GREY HAIR. I’m super excited to be going grey and to have all grey hair! Even those who know me really well sometimes question my perspective, saying, ‘I don’t get why you don’t want to dye your hair….’ or what I get more often is a shake of the head with a laugh, ‘You’re crazy.’ I’m not one to conform to society where it doesn’t fit. To dye my hair would be to hide. To dye my hair would be to pretend. To dye my hair would be to be ashamed of the aging process. To dye my hair would be not me. I think it’s important that we talk about aging differently than we have.
I’m not ashamed to go grey, have wrinkly skin, and watch my breasts sag.
The amount of pressure surrounding me to dye my hair & ‘stay young’ depresses me at times. It’s as if there’s something wrong with being whatever age I am and feeling alive at that age!? Why is ‘feeling alive’ so often synonymous with ‘feeling young’ in our vocabulary? I think part of the answer is in our ability to create age silos. (Silos beyond the work place?! Oh dear!) Where are the programs, the schools, the workplaces, the living situations, the institutions that appreciate the diversity of age? The people who want to work, live, and learn outside of their own generation? It would be dismissive of me to not mention the institution of the family where it does still exist here and there: in Japan where generations of families live together, in Native American communities where the utmost respect is given to elders, in countless other places all around the globe. The amount we have to learn from one another individually & collectively astounds me, and to be able to do such in an actually diverse environment can build connection & trust like other experiences simply cannot.
To be old and live well is something I imagine we all aspire to, to always live well, yet the systems of thought and institutions supporting those systems seem to set us up for something much different – challenging conversations about how to live when we need help, how we want to die (having never thought about it/picked up on everyone’s fear of it & not wanted to talk about it), how to continue to feel great, to continue to learn and love.
I continue to ruminate on this topic, meeting people with stories all about their parents & grandparents and the humongous challenges they face(d), stories about end of lives and the beauty of celebrating so many years of a life, stories of fear, confusion, excitement, wonder and so much more. I’ve recently read Gloria Steinem‘s Doing Sixty and Seventy, which I’d recommend, bought and played the game My Gift of Grace and I’m jumping into a project with a friend & colleague (woohoo, Ann!) that’s unfolding in time – perhaps we will focus on supporting intergenerational communities of people? Perhaps we’ll design experiences for one nearing the end of their life and those connected to that person? Perhaps we’ll look at how interactions and visuals can help us connect in old age? These are some of the things we’re talking about and I’m thinking about.
What’s it mean to be old and live well for you? What life do you imagine for yourself in old age?