|Poet W.S. Merwin|
My Montana friend and yoga teacher Cache Hartzell posted a link to an interesting article this morning.
"Prize-winning poet still at work at eighty-six"
proclaimed the AP News article's headline.
The prize-winning poet featured was W.S. Merwin, who has had a long, distinguished career.
"I think of one of my greatest heroes, (William Butler) Yeats," Merwin says in the interview. "He wrote at length - although nothing of Yeats is too long - about old age. He came to it with real anger, as though it was an outrage."
Merwin's attitudes about aging are different from those of Yeats.
Merwin says, "I think of old age as being a time like the others. It has its revelations of its own that you can't come to any other way. I don't have any of those feelings Yeats had at all. I accept it with a certain amount of curiosity."
It is cause for celebration when humans remain vitally engaged in their gifts and the work that brings them joy, no matter what age they are. Merwin is an outstanding poet, passionately engaged in writing poetry in his late eighties. Hallelujah. That enriches each of us, even if we never read any of his poems.
But back to that headline, which proclaimed that he "still" writes well into his eighties. Is this surprising? Not really, unless you are one of those who expects aging to equal complete disintegration of all talents, interests and passions. May Sarton, W.B. Yeats and Stanley Kunitz are just a few other poets who lived long lives and continued to write in their old age.
Many, many human beings continue to thrive, flourish, create, share and contribute in marvelous, rich ways though they are truly Very Old. Is this surprising? No, but it is wonderful and I sure wish that the majority of people in our culture would wake up to the truth that the vast majority of older adults are healthy, full of life experience and capable of wonderful contributions to family and society.
Right now, it is not that way. Instead, we as a society believe that if an old person is "still" dancing or or "still" creating gigantic welded sculptures or"still" doing complex mathematical equations in late life, they are an anomaly or an exception. How sad, this belief.
Old people are expected to sit back, shut up and stay out of sight. How sad to see the way that so many older adults collapse into noxious stereotypes about being old and begin to embody them. What a gigantic waste --all that soul, love, creativity, life experience eroding from disuse. May this shift, and soon.
This week, I read a couple of other articles about our cultural attitudes toward aging that I found interesting. One was posted on Facebook on the page called Confronting Ageism. It was written by Alice Fisher, who works in the office of a New York state senator, and who in her private life runs consciousness-raising groups for older adults, to help participants investigate ageism and create positive ways of confronting it. That's good news, don't you agree?
Apparently, they are creating a manual that can be used by others to create similar groups, and I look forward to seeing that once it is completed.
Fisher writes, "Ageism is an interesting prejudice. Aging is the common denominator for everyone who is born. If fortunate, we are all going to get old. We are all going to die. So being judgmental about people just because of their age, or their wrinkles, or their slower pace, is sowing the seeds for our own internalized ageism."
We have been educated about racism and sexism, but many of us are not very aware of what comprises ageism, either in society or within ourselves. It is largely unconscious.
Another piece that influenced me this week appeared in Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By blog. In this post, titled "The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations," Bennett featured excerpts from an article from the Montreal Gazette written by Daniel Nonen.
In his article, Nonen notes, "It continues to be acceptable to patronize old people with low expectations...
“Old people need a liberation movement like the great North American movements of the past 60 years that are improving the lot of blacks, women, gays and lesbians..."
Later Nonen states,"...the most important accommodation that society should make doesn’t cost anything, People should simply start to expect more from old people. They should reject the 'soft bigotry of low expectations."
Yes indeed. Of course, that kind of change must take place within each one of us. Consciousness raising involves investigating our own attitudes and beliefs about aging and growing old.
What are your key motifs, beliefs or mottos about this time of life and yourself living through it? Where did they come from? How realistic are they? Are you collapsing into self-created stereotypes? If you were to define your main characteristics as an older person, what would they be?
I would love to hear back from you on any of these, too.
Sending warm regards to each of you. Here in Oregon's Rogue Valley, the wildfires are dying down and the air is clearing.