The Secrets of Aging

Judging from some blog entries this week, a couple of other people (here and here) have getting old on their minds. I can empathize. Getting old is no fun until you learn the secret, which I'm going to reveal in the course of this entry...

I spent the better partno, allof the past 10 years obsessed with figuring out out how I might escape this thing called age. Guess what I came up with? I can't. The truth is, we're aging from the moment we're conceived. That's not news, but I think the fear of aging isn't about age, exactly, but a fear of becoming invisible, obsolete, and of not accomplishing the dreams and goals we set for ourselves when we were young. But let's face it, dreams don't always come true and, while we're wallowing in regret, we're not accomplishing anything!

We live in a society that denigrates and maligns age, which doesn't help. After (hopefully) overcoming the need to be popular and liked when we're kids, we're later forced into becoming invisible and reviled after only a few short years of feeling like we've arrived. Who can look forward to that, especially in a society where being old is associated with being useless, invalid, and a load on family and community? Added to this are the glorified images of youth as the only way to be beautiful, active, productive, or sexy. In short, the ideal example of humanity. Not that those qualities aren't good, they just present a one-dimensional picture of us as a species. Personally, I'd never go back to my teens or twenties. Emotionally, those were difficult years as I struggled to understand myself and my purpose in life.

"A woman my age is not supposed to be attractive or sexually appealing. I just get kinda tired of that."
Kathleen Turner

She's right. After the biological imperative to procreate faded, it was a great relief to me not to constantly be hounded by the need to be attractive. I'm not saying that we should let ourselves go, I mean that the instinctual drive to be attractive is a huge burden, and I'm glad that stage of my life is over.

Billions of dollars are poured into the pockets of manufacturers and surgeons who want us to believe that we can win the battle against aging, which sends the message that aging is something to be avoided at all costs, i.e., BAD. What if we had been taught that we get better as we get older, that we will learn more about ourselves and life, and that the second half of life provides us with opportunities to really come into ourselves and to accomplish the goals that were postponed by raising a family? What if age was something we were taught to look forward to? What if our elderly were valued and their experience was considered vital information?

Earlier, I Googled "getting old" and I found a link that stated, "I don't want to get old and boring." Why does one automatically include the other? I've encountered plenty of boring young people. What the young woman should have said was, "I don't want to stay young and boring" because I suspect that those people who are boring when they're old were probably boring when they were young. If all we do when we're young is sit in front of the telly, or keep our noses down to a phone screen, how can we expect to become suddenly vital when we're older?

And that's part of the secret:

Prepare for old age today by living the way you want to live later on.

Another part is realizing that covering our eyes and ears and shouting, "La-la-la-la!" isn't going to make aging go away. It's coming. Face it. The Golden Rule is key in accepting the inevitable. If you treat the elderly with disdain, how on earth can you demand to be treated well when it's your turn? So another element of the secret is:

Do unto others.

Simple, huh? But I'm not talking about karma and payback here, I'm talking about planting attitude seeds. If you harbor loathing and fear, you're only saving that up so that you can turn it on yourself later. You have to learn that you are what you think and that feelings of disrespect and hatred don't hurt the one you're focusing on, they hurt you. Try a little kindness, try patience and curiosity. Talk to people who are older. Realize that they might be able to give you some pointers about facing the fact that you are aging that will be valuable to you later on. So the next part is:

Conquer your fear and look aging in the face.

Grow up. It happens, and it will happen to you, regardless of anything you might try or buy. Cosmetic surgery only addresses the outer appearance; your body will still get old and you will one day die. There's nothing you can do about it, and that brings me to the most important part of getting over the fear of aging:

Embrace life in all its fullness. Yes, even death.

Celebrate the phases of life, make the most out of each one and never, never lose your sense of humor. Age spots are just age spots, they're not spots on your soul and they don't represent your failure to stay young, beautiful, and sexy. Gray hair is just gray hair and wrinkles are just wrinkles. Yesterday, The Pink Cowboy wrote:
"I hope I get lots of wrinkles. Seriously. You see, I love maps and I would like to wear one in my face. Imagine a continent full of bays and peninsulas drawn in your forehead. Just gorgeous."
I remember when I was in my teens and twenties, I thought that when I got old I'd somehow be someone else, that the person looking out from my eyes wouldn't be me. Seeing myself as an old person seemed foreign and disconnected from who I was, which is as it should be. When we're young we're not really supposed to be thinking about old age. That usually comes along as we near the 40-year mark. Now that I'm nearly 60, I realize that it's still just me. I've grown and deepened, but I'm still the girl who sat on her bedroom floor playing Beatle songs on her guitar (although getting up from the floor is getting progressively harder to do). In retrospect, I see that I had nothing to worry about and that the me that I am today is an just improved version of what I was when I was young. Improved version.

Many years ago I learned that the best antidote to depression is to help someone else, to get one's mind off of oneself. Likewise, the best antidote to aging is the same: stop indulging negativity. Of course, we have to express our fears and sorrows. I'm not advocating suppressing these things, but too many people get stuck there and they waste precious time fearing that which they cannot change. And this brings me to the Secret Of Life:

There are only two emotions.
Let me repeat that:




All other emotions are merely symptoms of those two. Anger is a symptom of fear, worry is a symptom of fear, futility is a symptom of fear. Patience is a symptom of love, respect is a symptom of love, humor is a symptom of love. How one regards aging reveals precisely what emotion one is functioning from in regard to oneself. Do I love myself, or am I in fear of myrself? Do I love life, or do I fear it? We are what we think, and what we think about aging is the reality we're creating for our future.


Have role models.

Most of us had role models when we were young, but why can't we have some when we're older? I've always admired Katharine Hepburn and Jessica Tandy, and when I was in my thirties I used to say, "When I'm old, I want to be a salty broad like Ruth Gordon." Although that's not my personality type, I think it's still a worthy aspiration. Yeah, I'm kind of a Maude type, as in Harold and Maude.

So, what, really, is the secret of aging? Love. Love for oneself, mainly. That will cover more than any concealer or makeup ever can.