“It’s not that time heals all wounds. It’s what you do in that time.”
The preceding could be a quote from Oprah or Dr. Phil, or God-knows-who-ever-network-tv-guru said it. I can’t remember where I heard it but it’s been the lingering thought for my week. With birds dropping from the sky and fish dying in the sea, my thoughts towards my own mortality and the overpopulation of the world have been turbulent and persistent. I’m not afraid of dying, to quote Laura Nyro, one of my favourite songwriters who made such a bold statement at the age of 19. I waver between considering how microscopically small a single human life is in the grand scheme of the universe only to then consider how impactful a human life can be on the symbiotic world we live in. I don’t intend this blog to be a philosophical debate, so I better reel myself in and redirect the conversation. With time may come healing, but will definitely come aging.
A few months ago I implored my boyfriend to answer, “What is a positive thing about aging?” He was left speechless and led me to Google, where I came across an array of weakly tied together, superficial notions of what aging can bring. Certainly it won’t be bringing in one of the answers– social security checks– to most of us. I just received a letter that by the time I am 52 the benefits will be exhausted but with any luck I may be able to collect 60-75 percent of what I am due. So social security and retirement are not the blissful senior markers for my generation as they were for those before us. I can live with that, particularly because my assignments and life choices have led me to mostly enjoyable, fulfilling projects that I wouldn’t wish to retire from. In keeping that commitment, I’ll work until I die. And if not, my backup plan is to be homeless in Hawaii, where I can play the ukulele at sunset, sell my little crafts and paintings to tourists along the public beach, and sleep in a Volkswagon bus. Second to that, I strive for dementia so my awareness of the misery my poor planning caused can be eclipsed by thoughts of being a child running around a trailer park in my stocking feet as I spent my early life doing.
I’ve recently, per my New Year’s Resolution, returned to volunteering at a senior home. I cannot conceive why I ever took a hiatus from this opportunity, as every visit leaves me with a warm heart of compassion and new understanding of people. I gain so much spending an hour or two with the seniors, last week spending over an hour talking to a Surinamese man who came to America in the 1940’s, traveling his way from Suriname to Alabama to New York. Volunteering always has a thinly-veiled purpose to it and this event involved arts and opera. Not fifteen minutes into volunteering, I realized that my new Surinamese friend had little interest in watercolours and crayons and would rather have a conversation with me about his days in his twenties as a young immigrant. The arts simply provided an opportunity to get a conversation started.
Through these experiences, and my own crazy thoughts, I’ve compiled my own list below for the awesome benefits of aging.
1. Possibilities become impossibilities. When we’re young, anything is possible (or so we’re told). And with possibilities come the drive, the pressure, and the desire to be and do more. Disappointment looms when we don’t achieve what we are told is possible and we fight each day to prove ourselves, to make something of ourselves and live up to our potential. Once the possibilities become impossibilities, well, we can just be. Like when we were children and just waking up and going where the day led us was enough to find fulfillment and joy. Once something becomes impossible, acceptance meets us with a greater gift: peace of mind.
2. Being Old Is Enough of an Accomplishment: When someone asks your age and you answer, “18,” they say you have your life ahead of you. Answer that you’re 28, and you better have completed an education, be married or in a serious relationship, and have a career started. By 38, there should be children, home ownership, and a healthy 401K. But once you hit your 80’s– you know what? People are just impressed that you’re breathing, walking, and able to carry on a semi-coherent conversation. Make it to 90 and up and you just have to be breathing and people will say, “Wow! Incredible you lived such a long life!”
3. No More Beauty Pageants: Okay, so we aren’t all beauty pageant entrants. And the expectations of how we should look like as we age are being painfully skewed by Hollywood (What? Jane Fonda is really 70-something? Madonna is over 50?) But if you ignore the media (as getting older should encourage one to do) you can let go of a little vanity once you accept you will no longer look like a fresh-faced 20-something in a Proactiv commercial (remember when the spokesperson of Proactiv was 50-something-year-old Judith Light?)
4. You’ve Already Learned How Your Body Can Fail You: We spend most of our lives in this country running from our fear of pain. But chances are, by the time you are a senior, you’ve experienced a share of physical pain and emotional loss. And by surviving, you realize that our greatest fears can be overcome and we still live on.
5. Curiosity is Answered: You spend your early years measuring your life against your peers and the media. But live long enough and you garner how everyone has lived through highs and lows and those illusions of the “perfect” life are shattered into fragments of reality. And with these acknowledgments come empathy, connectedness, and once again- peace of mind.
6. Crankiness is Acceptable: It’s no longer bitchiness, ladies. Once you reach a certain age you are permitted the chance to re-invent yourself. You can be the old, cranky character that you’ve experienced firsthand in your own families.
7. Some Memory Loss: I’m not talking about the painfully, debilitating ailments like Alzheimer’s. I’m talking about the mild memory loss that allows us with amazing memories to let slide some of those things that interfere with happiness. Such memories include: remembering how many payments it took to pay off those student loans (and all the interest those bailed-out already bank bastards collected from you), remembering every little wrong thing someone did unto you (or that you did unto them), and as Babs once sang, “what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”
8. Closer to Death: It’s morbid, as I am often described by friends, family, and even acquaintances. But there is some relief in knowing that this will not last forever. You will not be trapped in a human body eternally, unlike what any sci-fi horror flick will allude you to believe. No matter what you believe, it’s one certainty you can latch onto… the longer you live, the closer you are to that certainty.