Coppyright 2008 by Marceline Donaldson
Growing old is an amazing process. Especially when you live in a society which worships youth. It seems as though every kind of media output is focused on being young, staying young, looking young, feeling young. There is very little in our society to help you get through this last stage from life to death. It is even considered morbid to broach the question or to discuss anything about that process unless, of course, you are dying from some terminal disease within months and your story makes good copy. Even AARP is marketing/insurance oriented and doesn’t really help. You have to wade through all of those ads and some inane stories to get any kind of information and at that point the information isn’t worth the time and effort it took to find it.
We are starting another line on Bettina’s Blog about old age. It is really something to celebrate. Look at me, I am still here, still surviving, fairly healthy and I have the wisdom of the experiences I have accumulated over all those years to remember and fall back on in any set of circumstances. I can make decisions quicker because of my years of experience; I can understand other people better because I’ve seen and experienced so many different kinds of people and I have seen them in so many different stages of development; and I am not so self-absorbed, because the years of living tears you away from yourself if you’ve been even a little bit open to the world. My friends are much more open now then they were in their 20’s, 30’s etc. What’s the point of keeping secrets or putting on a front for the world! With gray hair, sagging stomach and “laugh” lines comes a slightly different set of values and a “why bother” attitude. Some things which were important just aren’t anymore.
One thing I’ve found lately – time changes. That is the most profound change and that is when you know “old age” has set in. When a month has passed and you feel as though its only been a week, you know something in your life has changed dramatically. Talking around the breakfast table, I discovered that is a common problem. It is a problem because you have to take on a new discipline on the administrative side of life. All of a sudden your bills aren’t getting paid as promptly as they used to be paid because it doesn’t seem as though a month has passed.
Once through that surprising difficulty, life smooths out again because that new discipline you’ve had to take on with the paperwork side of life helps the rest.
A second bonus is – once you are several years pass menopause your tendency to gain weight at such a feverish pitch slows down. We had one very lively breakfast conversation about dieting to lose weight and I realized dieting is a consumer boon doggle for the marketing people. I sort of knew that years before, but on an intellectual level because I was still subject to being influenced by the way that marketing boon doggle was being used by the “thin sellers”. Today, I have that knowing on an emotional, deep down level. Seeing this society chase after being thin makes me laugh and be sad by turn, but it doesn’t make me take a second look or give a second thought to whatever is being offered. I must be really old.
The way to selll something these days is to pitch it as making you thinner – if you look thinner, feel thinner, think thinner – you will seriously consider buying whatever is being promoted. If not buying it, you will look into the offer to see if it has a real hope of making you thin.
Over the long haul, it really doesn’t matter. What is important is what you eat. My thinnest time of life was in my mid-30′ to about 50 when my diet was vegetarian with nothing cooked. All vegies, all raw. I didn’t have a pound of fat anyplace. That was great. I think I looked at myself in every window I passed to admire the image. Now, I eat what I’ve discovered over all those years contributes to my health and energy level. It is such a simpler lifestyle. I would like to pass that on to my children, but aging will do that much better then I ever could.
When they were little we had this all vegie, all raw except for freshly baked bread, time in our lives and they thought I didn’t love them. The bread only lasted a day because it was stale by day two and hard as a rock by day three so that was the stuff of many family jokes. And everyone knows – learned from daytime television – a mother’s love is judged by the meals she cooks. The heavier, the more elaborate, the bordering on stroke and heart attack meals she cooked, the more love she was considered to have for her family. It took enormous amounts of time to figure out how to keep my girls eating well, what combinations were healthy, how to find all of this raw food before the “organic” revolution.
That kind of effort was totally outside of the normal, middle class American psyche of what constituted a loving mother. Today, I look back on all the pain and grief those ideas about food caused all of us and just have to shake my head. Who was that woman!
Currently, the most amazing times for me are those class reunion times. I have gone to a few reunions and I can’t believe how old my classmates have become. I look in the mirror and see myself daily, but somehow, that gradual aging is totally acceptable to me. To see someone I haven’t seen for five years is dramatic. They looked fairly young until the last two five year reunion cycles. Some have died, some can hardly walk and their young relatives come with them to make sure they don’t get into trouble negotiating back and forth from their rooms to the reunion events and some are just lost. The lost are the saddest of all. They are going over their lives and regretting much of what they could have and didn’t do. It is an amazing grieving process and I know they will die soon. The look of fear in their eyes never leaves and the fun, joking person you once knew has already left this earth.
Most dramatic among the reunion crowd is to see the value change. Listening to the political speeches and ads and hoop-la, it seems as though the biggest mistake a candidate can make, which then makes that person grist for the mill to be ground into little pieces and thrown to the dogs (the media), is to change their minds. To have a change of heart; change of decision from a few years ago; change of any kind is portrayed by the media as almost on a par with major venal sin. They will viciously stalk a candidate to be the first to declare – you didn’t believe that two years ago! You have changed your mind and your position you are not to be trusted.
The most beautiful thing I see at my reunions and among my former classmates from several institutions (I did get around), is to hear them talk about the changes in their lives – their value changes – how they were strong in one belief, but have now changed because of some set of circumstances and/or experiences they’ve been through which made them see things in a different light. More then any other marker on this road from birth to death, the one which shows strongest that you are aging is that change in values, in beliefs, in how you perceive things. From that comes a deep discernment which youth is denied.
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