Saturday, May 2, 2015

In Praise of Oldness: Longevity, Vitality and the Fulfillment of Meaning

Since I returned to Oregon from Mexico in early March, I have plunged back into the creative development of Sage's Play, and in the process of that, I have naturally found myself immersed in contemplating and considering our culture's perspective on oldness, aging and elders.

Desmond Tutu dances at the Dalai Lama's birthday party
"Why does our society believe old people need help?" asks author James Hillman. "They are the ones who would be, in some other society, passing on help to others: teaching skills, telling stories, leading rituals, caring for children. They have a contribution to make, and instead they are segregated as sick people who need to be nursed. This is ridiculous."

With all this I wholeheartedly agree.

When I am sitting here with my Sage's Play hat on, and my Sage's Play glasses on, I am often inspired to sing praises to oldness, to its value, richness, depth, and the essential resonance of oldness, which we find so powerful and comforting. Oldness, staying power, lasting, the accumulated pile of life experience, of knowing, caring, leading, setting a good example, keeping the faith, passing on the old stories, showing how to plant the seeds and cultivate the garden of this life.

Maya Angelou
As I have said before, I believe it would do us all good to create an Elder Hall of Fame!  I have a list of many people I have been collecting and all of them are worthy candidates. Of course there's the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, both of whom are great examples of sages at play.

And poets Maya Angelou and Stanley Kunitz. Comedian Betty White, along with Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Pablo Casals, Pablo Picasso, Bernie Sanders, Tao-Porchon Lynch, teaching yoga in her 90s,  Robert Redford, Leonard Cohen, Jane Goodall, among others. Because I am interested in art, many of the elders I chose are artists of one sort or another.  Who would you want to add to the Elder Hall of Fame if there was one and you were on the panel?

Perhaps you might find it useful, as I have, to take a long look at the old people you admire. What is it that you find most fascinating or touching about them? What kind of oldness do you want to embody? What qualities do you want to continue to cultivate in yourself as you age?

Twyla Tharp
This morning, I listened to a great talk by Ashton Applewhite, a pro-aging activist based in NYC whose work I admire and support. In her talk, Ashton discusses prevalent stereotypes about aging and how they impact older adults and society at large. Because let's face it, not all older people are as clear in their life mission and work as are those I am mentioning here. Many elders find it difficult to push through the age prejudice in our society to contribute their valuable skills and knowledge.

Age discrimination and prejudice are bad for our health and the health of our world. It's as simple as that. You can watch Ashton Applewhite's incisive, information-packed talk on ageism here. I highly recommend can also take a look at her website This Chair Rocks.

Incidentally, I post a lot of great articles and observations about aging on the Sage's Play Facebook page.

Well, that's a collection of links for you to explore...and here is one more,  just for good measure. Have you taken a look at our revamped Sage's Play website? There are some delightful changes and additions you might like to see.

Right now, I am revising Your Audacious Aging Kit and  developing a new e-course titled Into the Mystery: The Healing Power of Memoir and Life Review. I feel rejuvenated and filled with fresh inspiration from my sojourn in Mexico. Stay tuned...and enjoy the magic of the approaching full moon!


  1. Interesting view. So Social Security should not be offered to the old because they don't need it? How about Medicare? I know there are some of us who could get by without either, but for many, being old means they do need that help. I have often felt that special fares for the elders are a mistake as many old folks could pay full fare to a movie or for a meal, have actually more money than younger ones struggling to raise a family. The special rates are offered and not many of us turn them down. I think this thing about not wanting to be regarded as old is a two-edge sword.

    When I put out a new book, I get no benefit for being old nor is there a drawback. While some are pushed out of work when old, others take early retirement as a break to get out of what they were doing and be able to choose a new profession with the added benefit of a pension or a buyout.

    At 71, I notice definite things that weren't there when I was young. I don't want to be regarded as young or the same as I was. I don't want to go back either but I am well aware that I have less years ahead than I had behind-- a lot less.

  2. Where did Social Security come into the conversation Rain? Neither I nor Ashton mention it....I am certainly in favor of increasing Social Security for elders and that goes for Medicare, too--expanding what is covered. Our "senior discounts" are a good and useful token. But the fear and loathing that pervades our society about aging makes it difficult for elders to fully relax into being old and using their skills for themselves in a positive, healthy way. There are many layers to aging in America.

    1. It came from this: "Why does our society believe old people need help?" asks author James Hillman.

      I don't have the experience you do about aging. I have not felt I was invisible or treated poorly for being 71. I hear it from others but it's not remotely my experience. My grandmothers were respected, sat in the chair where all revolved around them. My expectation for being old wasn't that it'd be the same as being middle-aged but no fear or loathing attached at all. I believe that some must experience this but I wonder how pervasive it really is.

      In the writing community, old and young seem to come together as equals and it's only the work that is different. I recognize that being in a laboring job would find it different. My father was eager to retire due to his hard labor work which he couldn't do.

  3. Rain, I am glad that you do not experience age prejudice. That is wonderful. It does exist in our culture however, in medicine, retail settings, the workplace, social services, and anywhere that people gather. Ageism is the last socially sanctioned prejudice, and it is time for positive shift to occur for all those affected by it.

  4. It's unfortunate but it's not the last. It's one of them. We don't really seem to grow as a species. Very disappointing.