A few days ago I met a young chap of about 7 or 8 walking with a small woman about my age. He was blond, blue-eyed, bright as a new whistle. As I approached he said, indicating his companion, “ You are twins!”
I replied, “ I wonder if you are saying that because both of us are wearing blue, and because we both have gray hair.” “Yes,” he responded, “You are both elderly.”
“Well elderly is not the word I would use to describe myself,” I told him, already becoming aware that there were vast gulfs of experience and language proficiency and associations between us.
“But elderly is a nice way of saying it,” he responded in a sweet way. What a dear little fellow he was, and what a dismal idea he had of aging and older people, based upon his solicitous use of the word elderly.
“Is that your grandma?” I asked him, indicating my supposed twin, who seemed quite surprised by our conversation thus far. “No, it’s respite.” he responded. I didn’t know quite what to make of that. Was he in foster care, or was his family ill? I didn’t have enough information to go further, but his disclosure made me understand he was in some sort of unusual situation.
“Well,” I said to him, returning to his elderly gambit and hoping to set him straight, at least as far as I was concerned, “I like being old quite a bit. I find it quite a wonderful time of life.”
When he confided that he hoped he would die at 50 so he wouldn’t have to get old, I just wanted to wrap the little chap up in a warm grandmotherly embrace. Meanwhile, his respite companion just stood there looking rather stunned. I think she was not accustomed this type of conversation or to my perspective on aging.
I myself was wondering, are there millions of children who feel this way about aging? Oh my, that is pretty sad. “I am sorry to hear that,” I said to him. “There are a lot of wonderful things about getting older.” “Oh,” he asked, “What is so great about being old? “
“I am very free,” I told him. “ My children are grown. I’m a writer. I can write whatever I want. I can cook whatever I want. I can travel wherever I want. I can do whatever I want.” He looked as if he was doing his best to digest these new ideas. His respite companion, who had never said a word throughout, still looked surprised and nonplussed.
That conversation has made me contemplate how to talk with children and young adults about the pleasures and opportunities of age. Communicating the joys of age to younger people is challenging. They have not yet lived long enough to understand some of the richness of age.
So there’s more work to do. But these 5 statements are a beginning. I have to thank that darling boy and his respite companion for the opportunity to mull this over. I look forward to having more conversations with young people about aging, and to finding the right language to communicate to them (and to the 30s and 40s and 50s who are afraid of it, too) what a marvelous time of life it can be.
1. I feel free—Everything is open, like a big adventure. There’s nothing to lose and plenty to learn by opening new doors.
2. I have the perspective of a bird in the sky-- Having lived this long gives a bigger view of human life. You could call it the wisdom of lived experience or been there done that (many times)
3. I enjoy happiness, contentment and acceptance-- I’m happier than I’ve been at any time. I experience delight in the present moment, appreciation and gratitude—the emotional tides have calmed considerably. I experience the beauty inherent in people and the world.
4. I am comfortable with who I am-- I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I am free to be the person I have become.
5. I acknowledge the approach of death. I can engage with it as a fruitful territory to explore and relax into.