Sunday, August 15, 2010

5 Great Things About Being Older

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.


  1. Gaea, thanks for this beautiful post. I agree completely with your choice of 5 great things. I might add 6. I'm content sitting still.

    The other day I was remembering how important it used to seem to me to 'go out' on Friday or Saturday nights–to be doing something. Quiet moments at home are so much more appealing now.

  2. I would add another item which struck me when I turned 60. I had done all that I was 'supposed' to do, finished the assignments I had given myself, and therefore was free now of expectations. If I didn't want to do anything more, that'd be okay but if I wanted to do more, I could try it. It goes along with your first item but I could theoretically have felt that when younger but I'd not have finished a lifetime of responsibility then, not have raised a family, given to the community, learned skills.

    I also wrestle with that word elderly as I hear it from the news sometimes with an elderly crime victim and she's my age.. Eeek.

  3. Like you, as a writer, I think a lot about the meanings and implications of words: elderly, old, senior, crone, geezer, mature. Your young man seemed to think elderly was better than old and perhaps you felt the opposite. When speaking to someone else we cannot know which of the words carry the most negative and positive freight for them. Nor do we know, as you imply, if they can grasp the meaning when we speak of our sense of freedom or our broader view. We are the first generation that can expect [or certainly hope] to pass through the 70s into the 80s and beyond. We must begin living the definitions so that those youngsters will look forward to what comes beyond fifty whatever the word they have for it. I suspect you educated the boy's companion a bit in that conversation also. Speaking as you did is a start on redefining the meaning of being over fifty or sixty.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I still have assignments to finish, feels like. But there is always choice about what to take up and what to let go. Best to you on your journey.