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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

"Why Can't We Tell The Truth About Aging?"

Amidst all the hoopla about the advantages of aging (self-confidence, experience, even power--badges that I have touted at length in this blog), there are those naysayers who find all of this a bunch of hooey. And, yes, I know older women who say things like "If this is what aging is all about, I want no part of it." For them, the writing is on the wall, and it isn't pretty.

Some of these women blame their generational genetics for the "insults" of aging--the sagging chin "from" their mother, the disproportional lower body inherited from their grandmother, and even serious diseases like dementia and cancer from a host of relatives. They're convinced they never stood a chance, no matter how hard they've tried to slow down the tick-tocking nipping at their heels.

I get it: aging has its share of challenges both physical and emotional. None of us gets a free pass. There are always what I call "Age Jump" days when we wish we were back in our 50s or 60s. Yeah, I know. Most of us say we'd never want to go back because we've learned so much and feel so much more comfortable in our own skin, but, at least speaking for myself, that, too, is a fantasy. There are times when I long for a body without aches and pains and a time when I had the second half of my life in front of me.

Still, we flourish despite the hurdles. Maybe we even reinvent ourselves and do things that we never had the time or wherewithal to do before. Join a painting class. Write that first novel. Volunteer overseas. Learn a second or third language. (I'm trying to juggle Spanish and now French. I used to be fluent in the latter. Now, I forget how to say basic words like maison for house. But I carry on.)

Then comes along someone like Arthur Krystal, an essayist, editor, and filmmaker, who penned "Why Can't We Tell The Truth About Aging? in the October 28, 2019, issue of The New Yorker. His article knocked me for a loop and cast doubt on my putting the best face on aging. Krystal acknowledges the chance that we may be happier at eighty than at twenty or forty but that, without a doubt, we're going to feel a lot worse.

Not encouraging but the truth?

In the author's article, he surveys several recent books that celebrate older women (and men) and, for the most part, sing the praises of aging.

Books like:

Mary Pipher's "Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing As We Age" in which the author contends that the minds and bodies of women over sixty are being devalued the older they get. She encourages women to "conceptualize all experiences in positive ways." (A lofty goal but reasonable?)

Marc E. Agronin's "The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life" elevates aging to the "most profound thing we accomplish in life." (I might question the word profound and substitute luckiest or _______________.)

Then there's Ashton Applewhite's "This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism" that posits that olders (That's a new term she coined) can get down with the best of them. (Rock on, sister!) Retirement homes are "hotbeds of lust and romance" (Not the places I've visited), "sex and arousal do change, but often for the better." (Really? Guess I've missed the boat on that one.)

I've downloaded Ashton's book on my Kindle because, hell, if lust and romance are my (our) future, I want to hear about it. Sooner than later.

And, as Krystal writes, there is Carl Honore's "Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives." In this book, the author includes five "chatty" accounts "meant to reassure us that getting old just means that we have to work harder at staying young."

My question: Why do we have to work at staying young when we're not? Why don't we aim to accept our age and champion it? Tout our wisdom gained through experience. Be a fashionista without fear. Claim the right to say "No." Serve as role models for younger women whose ranks keep growing, while ours keep shrinking. I mean, I enjoy telling women that I'm seventy-four. I am proud of what I've accomplished and the steps I have taken to get there.

Ah, and a sense of humor goes a long way. I get a kick out of showing my cards: "Pretty good, for an older woman," I might say. Yes, it's self-deprecating but wholesome fun that always makes me giggle.

"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself." (Mickey Mantle or possibly Mae West or Eubie Blake)

It goes without saying that we older women all age differently. Some of us are luckier than others. In the end, I think it all comes down to that trite but true philosophy of seeing the glass half empty or half full. Even Krystal questions himself: "What do I know? I'm just one person, who at seventy-one doesn't feel as good as he did at sixty-one, and who is fairly certain that he's going to feel even worse at eighty-one."

He may feel worse physically or even mentally, but he has a fighting chance of feeling a lot better about where his life has taken him, the nuggets he will leave behind, and the success in facing down his fears with grace under pressure. And, maybe just maybe, he'll have a bit of fun along the way.

Isn't that what we all hope for?


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