Friday, January 20, 2017

Getting older

When you’re young, you never really consider what it will be like to get old. What I mean by that is that the idea of getting older is a purely theoretical one when you are twenty or thirty years old. You know that one day you will be old, but it seems far off and not much to get bothered about. And then one day, you are older, or at least at the age at which point you’ve lived more than half your life. You are no longer a middle-aged person. People start to view you differently, and you view yourself differently. You become more serious about the things that matter; after all, there is no time to waste on foolish things. At the same time, you learn to laugh at yourself more; after all, you’ve earned that right. You know who you are and you like yourself. You may not be as pretty, or thin, or fashionable as you once were when you were young, but you no longer care. Or you do care, but not in the same way. A good day is one when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, wake up without a lot of small aches and pains, look reasonably presentable for work purposes, and get yourself through the day without being unnecessarily bitchy or frustrated. But society won’t let you grow old gracefully. It insists on putting in its two cents on how you should look and behave. And believe me, it’s not easy facing certain people in society and telling them to mind their own business; that you want to grow old gracefully without a lot of plastic surgery, Botox and fillers. Or that you are not interested in pumping yourself full of hormones to become youthful again. I spend a fair amount of my weekdays with younger people, and I can tell you that I do not envy them their youth. I would not want to return to my thirties and to the uncertainty of those years. You’re still finding your way, building a career, clearing the jungle and carving out your niche. It’s fun but at the same time, it’s deadly serious and a lot of hard work, overtime and weekend work. And if you’re looking for a partner to share life with, it is hard work to find the one that ‘fits’ you. And so it goes. Maybe you find the right person, and then you might want to start a family, with all the work that entails. No, I don’t want to go back or to be young again. I’ve earned my stripes and I want to be able to leave the work world and to leave my projects and tasks over to those who come after me—the younger workers. One day they will be old and will face the same thing. More power to them until that day comes.

So why do people make stupid comments—about your getting older, about the fact that you no longer look the same or act the same as you did when you were younger? That you look 'different' than you used to look (translated--older, more tired, etc.)? When those comments are made to me, my answer is--of course I do, I'm older. I'm no longer thirty years old. Getting older is not a choice. It is not something anyone can do anything about. Why should people feel guilty about getting older? Why do they need to be reminded about it constantly? It is no one’s ‘fault’ that people get old. It’s just life. But society won’t leave older people alone. And many older people feel as though they have to act ‘younger’. I am not one of them. I am honest about feeling tired, about not having the energy I once had, about wanting a more peaceful life, about wanting to retire, about not wanting to be ‘on’ all the time. I don’t want to work full-time until I die. That’s my choice and that’s my right. And if you don’t like me for it, that’s fine—leave me alone. Find someone else to reproach. And if you want to harass me for getting older, again, leave me alone. I don’t want you in my life. As far as work goes, I want the younger people to take over my job eventually. I have no reason to cling desperately to it; it does not define me—it is not my identity. I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do work-wise and I’ve done plenty. I’ve done enough to last two lifetimes. I want to use my time doing other things—volunteer work, library work, working at an animal shelter or working at a garden center—who knows what time will bring? Whatever it brings, I’ll tackle it. Just leave me alone and let me grow old gracefully. I have some good role models—older folks who have aged gracefully--and they do not (and did not) apologize for being old or for getting older. And I have never made them feel as though they had to, never. I’m proud of myself for that when I see the stupidity around me, and grateful for the wonderful relationships I’ve had with the older people in my life. They shared their wisdom and showed me the importance of empathy. It’s them I miss (those who have passed on), not youth, and not the stupidity of youth and of a society that worships youth. My mother used to say, once you got old, you became invisible. She was never invisible to me, and older people in general are not invisible to me. Again I say, if you have a problem with getting older and need to harass older people to deal with your own insecurity and fear of death, you can disappear from my life. I don't need you in it.

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