On Aging and Living Life

I’ve decided to do a little blogging purge this week.

Well….not just purge, I guess. I suppose I should rather say, rehab.

Because what I want to do, really, is go back through some of my old content and see if there’s anything that needs updating or editing. Or, yes, deletion. (I definitely do have some of those!)

 One of my biggest writing issues, as a blogger, has historically been that I tend to get rather rambling and meandering. This doesn’t happen all the time…but often enough. And, while I think it (the rambling, etc) actually has its usefulness as a writing style, the big negative is that, when I let myself be so undisciplined, sometimes a really good point/idea/theme gets lost in a bunch of babble!

So, those are the posts I’m most specifically going to hunt for over the next few days: the ones that have worthy parts that need rescuing!

Case in point is the partial re-post below. It was written last March – and the part I’m posting was originally pretty much buried within a larger (and very meandering!) discussion that only had a little bit to do with it.  Which is a waste, I think!

We’ll see what else I can rescue and/or edit this week from my archives. But for now, here are some (newly-rescued) thoughts on aging and living life:

***

 

I was re-reading the Kate Christensen novel, The Great Man, recently.

This is an interesting book on a few levels – but the idea that most particularly resonated with me in it was that life doesn’t stop when you reach a certain age. Dreams don’t stop. Wanting doesn’t stop. The central characters of this novel are all women in their seventies and eighties – and they’re still people. Full, nuanced, living beings. They’re still trying things and learning about themselves. Teddy and Lila most particularly…but that element was there in all of them.

This struck me as novel and interesting.

And then it struck me that I was struck.

Because I shouldn’t have been struck. This shouldn’t be such a novel idea.

Why is it? Why are we guided to think that living fully and open to change and possibilities is a state reserved for the young? That that’s when you dream and grow (and only then)?

I’m complicit in that as much as anybody else. When I turned 40, it really bothered me – and not because I felt old, particularly, or limited. It was because I was suddenly aware of all the things I was “supposed to” have had and done and accomplished by that milestone birthday. They all required a certain completion of the learning & exploring & growing stage of life that I hadn’t reached. And the thing is, they weren’t even my own goals! They were societal benchmarks. And it didn’t even matter whether I wanted them or not! (Because largely, I didn’t. Largely, I liked where I was. Learning & exploring & growing is actually what I want my life to be about!)

It was ridiculous to feel bad in any way about this! But it was a really powerful feeling. Societal norms are pretty powerful entities. You have to be pretty tough to shrug them off. It’s much easier to toe the line – and there’s certainly more cultural support for doing so.

When I think about that in terms of the attitude our culture takes toward older people, that reality becomes even more troubling to me.

Because what cultural support is there for older people to dream and grow? What cultural support is there for older people to push their limits – both mentally and physically? To broaden their horizons as much as possible?

And if you aren’t opening your mind – and heart – that way, imagining possibilities, utilizing your talents and potential to bring what you desire into your reality to the best of your capabilities – aren’t you just passing time in your own life?

And what a shame that is! What a waste!

There’s so much pressure to conform to societal norms – even if they’re outdated and unnecessarily limiting when held up for serious scrutiny. I re-observe this myself almost every time I try to explain to someone how it is that my ex and I actually can be conducting an amicable divorce. Raised eyebrows and skeptical silence are the most common reactions.

But I think it must be worse for the most senior among us – because we live in a society (here in America, at least) that sees older people as essentially irrelevant. As if the worth of ideas and dreams wrinkles up along with the emergence of crow’s feet beside the eyes…as if possibility and potential fade to nothing as the color of hair turns to grey. Older people are expected to just fade away – and resign themselves to the reality.

I reject this. I reject it for the sake of the people I know who, despite the fact that they might not have the agility anymore to climb trees and what have you, still have years of potentially interesting living to do.

And I reject it for the sake of ninety-year-old-me! Because I can’t imagine being in my seventies or eighties or nineties and not be learning and growing. I can’t imagine not having dreams and working toward them. I want to do things and know things and express myself. If I live to 100, I expect to still have a voice – and I don’t think I’m going to be any more inclined to want to silence it than I am right now.

I don’t think I can and be living to my fullest potential. (And that is unacceptable.)

One thing I’ve realized: There are more people than not in the world (by a wide, wide margin) who will be more than happy to hold you down and clip your wings. And I truly believe it’s not even about you. It’s about their own self-justification. If you make something different and unique of your life, after all, it means that they could have too. If your life is expansive and colorful, it becomes harder to ignore the constriction and blandness of their own. This isn’t acceptable – so you really have to stay at their level.

One thing I’ve learned over my life? Maybe the most important thing?: It’s that embracing each day, living it fully and with presence, seeking beauty, and rejecting limitations (or rather, seeing challenges, not cage doors) are the elements that make up the framework for a rich life. And that’s true whether you’re twenty or eighty.

I knew this on some level at twenty, but was nowhere near bold enough or confident enough to embrace it (and especially not to buck the wing-clippers.) But I know it now. And for the sake of older-me, I’m very glad about that! (Present-me is pretty pleased about it, too!)

I want be able to look back someday and know that, no matter what else I did or didn’t do, at least I lived that richly.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for novels like The Great Man, which present a picture of possibility. (I wouldn’t mind my own version of Teddy’s late-found romance, myself!)

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