My husband is only 43 and yet he worries about aging to the extent that it sometimes wakes him in the middle of the night. He worries about losing loved ones, his health failing, and to a lesser but still painful extent, his looks fading. He’s not overly vain; he’s just like the rest of us – honest and searching.
I can relate with much of what he’s experiencing. When you turn that corner from the future being always a distance away to seeing and feeling yourself aging, it is disconcerting. Suddenly, here’s this fact of life (aging) that you never really literally imagined happening to you (getting old), and it’s now happening – to you.
In our youth and beauty-obsessed culture, it’s no wonder that we’re uneasy about our years showing. There are, however, more significant, affecting ways in which we age, including our health failing, mental health suffering, and thoughts tending toward mortality. We develop GI tract issues, stiffening joints, unreliable memories, etc.… and they’re not just superfluous complaints. They’re typical things people who are aging talk about and have a strong desire to mitigate. That’s the medical/psychological side of it all. But what if we look at it from another perspective, with a different outlook and attitude?
When I bring up the topic with Stephen, the first thing that comes to his mind is his grandmother. He says he once asked her how old she felt when she was in her late 80s. She responded that she still felt 17 – and she lived to be 102. “I feel younger in some ways than I have before,” Stephen says at age 60. “I’d say I was more preoccupied with getting older when I was younger.”
Feeling like he’s turned a corner, he seems to have made a certain peace with aging. “Something in us is getting younger… it feels a bit like Merlin. He would get younger as he aged. In other words, the more I age, the more I’m coming closer to my next rebirth.” I realize this is a spiritual perspective, and I wonder if those of us worried about aging just need something to believe in. It’s certainly so much nicer than feeling like a victim of time and gravity with endless physical and cognitive worries.
But how about younger generations; what are they learning with so many role models trying so desperately not to age? I hope enough of us can find a balance between taking care of ourselves and respecting the parts of us that undeniably get older. As for me, I do try to be gentle with my imperfect self and not to worry about inevitable things.
It’s a science, if we think about aging in terms of eating right, staying active, engaging the mind, and challenging old beliefs and stale attitudes. It’s an empowering lifestyle if we focus on how better we can live right now, how well we can wear our years. Yet maybe it’s a religion too – If we find something so great to believe in that we fear no future phantoms and instead lap up the present as if it were the best fountain of youth there is.