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Now that I have reached my early late sixties, I am learning all about the vagarious nature of “getting up there!” Though I still feel like the least senior of senior citizens at this particular juncture, I am experiencing intrusions upon my youthfulness which are most likely leading to the inevitable old-fart-ism aka geezer-ville. I frequently remind myself (an increasingly necessary habit) that aging is both a challenge and a blessing and I sometimes even agree with this notion.
They say that with age comes wisdom, but I don’t know whether or not that verdict has been truly established. Sure, I know more stuff now than I used to, but tend to believe much of it is trivial or completely useless. If it’s not a growing collection of facts and fiction, then what constitutes the concept of wisdom? My best friend and stalwart companion-in-writing Merriam Webster, a veritable font of information, tells me that sense and judgement might constitute wisdom if tempered and refined by experience, training and maturity. By the time one gets to my age, maturity has less to do with emotional steadiness and more often means just plain “old.” I don’t feel ancient yet, so maybe I still have some time to work my way up from wise ass to wise old broad. One can hope.
The aging process includes biological failures from time to time, so I tend to put a lot of stock into that old adage: Move it or lose it! When I was a younger mature person, I worked for a couple of hospitals and clinics as a physical therapist assistant. My opinion of aging was forged in the fire of wheelchairs, ventilators and lamentations. Most of my patients were elderly, which led me to a skewed opinion of what older people looked like. Frail, sickly, despondent. Later, when I got a job at a gym, I learned that there are healthy aging persons going about the business of staying fit. Lots of them! Once given this gem of enlightenment, I vowed to gradually ease my way into the ranks of the physically-fit geriatric population and started the daily work meant to pave the path toward aging gracefully. Over the next few years, I fell down a few times, injured my knee, broke my arm, so I humbly settled for aging in an upright position.
As good old Charlie Darwin said, you can’t argue with the fact that the ability to adapt ensures the continuity of a species. Back in his day, Darwin had no idea we humans would be adapting ourselves into a big messy hole like climate change…or maybe he did. The ability to roll with the punches, recover from disaster, create solutions and just plain change our mindsets gives us an advantage with the aging process as well. People glued to the past just aren’t going to be able to live in the ever-changing future, so they die a sad death clutching their TV guides from 1975 while wistfully longing for Starsky and Hutch.
I often hear how my generation brought forth the greatest musical creators of all time. What a bunch of hoo-wee. If you adhere to this particular belief, you must have forgotten Mozart isn’t recording much these days, but we still appreciate his genius. One might be speaking, though, of rock music and all that is sainted from that realm. I sincerely love all of it (most of it) and will listen and sing along when I hear Pink Floyd at the grocery store. But to shun all that is new in music is to become comfortably numb to the geniuses of today. I am always game for discovering current talent. Here’s my strategy. I talk to a young person. It’s usually my son because mothers tend to freak out if I try to befriend their teenagers. Not to mention the teenagers themselves. Not that my son is a teenager any more, but he’s the closest one I have that can’t (or politely won’t) back away when I start talking about songs by Lizzo or Harry Styles. Maybe that’s why the kid doesn’t like to communicate with me by Zoom or Facetime. By phone I can’t see the eye roll when I say things like: Once you’ve listened to Five Finger Death Punch you don’t need to go back in time to catch an edge. That makes me feel like the coolest not-yet-a-grandmother out there, but only if I say it to people my own age.
Seeking out new music and experiences also helps when the brain begins to go a bit mushy. It might take a bit longer to recall details like names and the year I was born, but I get there eventually. AARP (yes, we joined by mutual capitulation) provides all sorts of brain-assisting games and activities on its website. Doing the crossword puzzle, reading endlessly, learning new things all help to keep the gray matter in reasonable condition. I have finally learned how to use my phone sufficiently to add “reminders,” which are alarms on the clock app someone else installed for me. There’s even a spot to name each specific alarm so that I’m not scratching my head at 2:15 on a Wednesday afternoon, asking now what was this for? As a backup, I write it on my actual paper calendar. Thank you, World Wildlife Fund, for this nostalgic throwback. I consider it good practice to use all my resources wisely, avoiding the issue of having to explain to the dentist’s office staff why I keep missing my appointments.
The largest benefit toward healthy aging is an active social life. After I read this in the AARP magazine, I got straight to work making sure everyone I meet knows my address. I’m still in the awkward phase of figuring out how to properly exchange phone numbers with new acquaintances. Do I verbalize my phone number while they tap it into their phone and then wait for them to send me a text so that I have their number and can add it to my contacts? What if I never hear from them? Then there is a situation where they have my info and I don’t have theirs. This feels a bit like ghosting. Is there a written protocol somewhere that I can follow to ensure this transaction goes smoothly and fairly? Bumbling and stumbling through a vague process is not my favorite way of learning something new. Certainly not the stumbling anyway. I need written guidelines through these modern social negotiations so I don’t fall flat on my face –which might be a bit off-putting to potential new pals.
Having friends to go out and play with is not just for kindergarteners. Of course, it’s not so much the activity that is important as the joining of forces and the natural persiflage that comes with easy company. A hug from a friend is like a shot in the arm. It protects you from the evils of the world and reinforces that comradery that allows two people the privilege of loving one another without having to say so. I say it anyway. I choose my confidantes wisely because I can unload my emotional baggage on a friend and they will keep it for me and never resort to blackmail. My deepest friendships are with those folks with whom I can be my authentic self. I feel privileged in having just such friends.
Naturally, with aging comes loss. I recall a moment when I sat in my grandmother’s living room as we gazed together out the window. She, lost in her past memories, started listing, much to my youthful horror, all the neighbors along her street who had died! It seemed to me a gruesome inventory. My grandmother was in her late seventies by this time, and had lived on that street for as long as I’d known her. This was the first time I understood that getting old was both a challenge and a blessing. She got to know all her grandchildren quite well, but was obviously well into the process of outliving her friends. Now, in my fledgling dotage, I am hovering warily on the edge of that abyss as a few wonderful souls have already departed from my life.
Living has its oscillations of ups and downs, but I’m still maintaining an upright position. I keep up with the news and current events. I engage in new activities and hang out with anyone willing to walk, chat, drink wine or cut up with me. As I write about the wonderful days of my life, I start up some Streetlight Manifesto on the Amazon Music app and bob and weave like a Punk Rock Girl, shakin’ it til the end and focusing on all my many blessings.
Embracing the old and new,