It’s all relative.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the average life span in ancient Rome and medieval Europe was between 20 and 30 years. Our life expectancy in 1900 was around 65. It has increased now 25 years in the last century. So, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, we can make it to 90 and beyond.
The medical community treats these bonus years as an illness. The prognosis is grim and full of admonitions about weight gain, insomnia, senility or dementia, osteoporosis, and heart disease, not to mention the need for hearing aids, dentures or joint replacements. It’s all about the pathology of aging.
Gerontophobia is the fear of growing old, or a hatred or fear of the elderly. We fear what we don’t understand.
Admittedly, I feared aging when I was much younger. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s no wonder, given the emphasis on youth in our culture, that I anticipated the worst. My aging happened a little bit at a time until one day I looked down at my body, into the mirror and wondered what happened.
In spite of the fact that there are millions of baby boomers, companies can’t figure out how to market to us. A headline last fall on Bloomberg read, “Aging Boomers Befuddle Marketers Aching for $15 Trillion Prize.” They are looking for the unmet and often unarticulated needs of older consumers, who for decades have been largely ignored by brand managers, marketers and product designers. The problem with most “silver” products is that they highlight and reinforce the debilitating effects of aging. The pathology of aging appears to be a common thread.
At last we are starting to notice that there are benefits to aging. Who knew?
Older people are more relaxed and generally happier. We get better at the business of living through experience in the school of hard knocks. We become wiser, more insightful and appreciative of the good things in life. Studies show that long term memory stays intact. The brain is far more elastic than previously believed so it’s possible to learn new skills.
As we age, we will continue to behave as we have behaved as adults. If we take the time to assess our behaviors, we can change that which is no longer useful or functional. Age is merely chronology, the arrangement of events or dates in the order of their occurrence. We are never static.
Women, in particular, thrive in community with each other. In the Skin Deepest group, we are discovering that we want not only to consciously age but to share our experiences, hopes and dreams with each other. The aging process can be both positive and challenging but we will be able to improve our coping skills with mutual support.
We’re not denying aging. We want to understand the process. We want to stay present through all the changes. Mindfulness leads to acceptance of the changes we experience.
We can learn self-compassion through dialogue with others. It’s easier to acknowledge someone else’s suffering before our own. If we respond with kindness and understanding to another, then perhaps we can treat ourselves more kindly, too.
We’re sitting around a virtual campfire, sharing our stories with each other, with a joyful realization that we have so much to share. There is great mystery in this sacred transition. We’re brave enough to learn to embrace it and celebrate the gifts we bring to light.