American culture is all about anti-aging. Walk down the cold cream aisle of any drug store, and labels will jump out at you, screaming in bright red and blue “REDUCES FINE LINES!” and “COMBATS AGING!” This proclamation is usually accompanied by the guarantee that whatever the container holds is the #1 trusted brand in America.
We are obsessed with the idea of staying young.
There is a blanket of fear over the topic of aging and what that means in general
(BREAKING NEWS: No one makes it out of this life alive y’all).
Aside from the many cosmetic surgeries offered today which promise the restoration of youth and thus, worthiness…it feels like there is a unique fear of aging that pervades my generation.
I find it fascinating.
Culturally, we are bombarded in the west with media images that champion youthfulness. Magazines are occasionally graced with grey haired cover-girls, who, if it were not for their coiffure…you might assume are closer to 40 than anything else!
Why do we fear aging?
Since I was a little girl I have enjoyed spending time with what my family affectionately calls “the old farts.” Similar to my mother, I find it comforting and fun to sip coffee at 6 am with gentlemen frequenting the local gas station hang-out. More is learned by listening than speaking in these scenarios, and the wealth of knowledge accompanying their personal reflections and memories has taught me more than most classrooms. Now, before continuing. I will add the caveat (since this is the internet!) that I understand I am sharing an opinion based on personal experience and observations….and I make no claim to be doing anything more than that. Observing.
My perception of the collective attitude towards aging today is that, as a culture we fear truly learning who and what we are. This applies to both the fear of discovering who we are individually, and our place within our broader communities.
(SIDE NOTE: there will be a part II to this blog, in which I will explore the differences between individual VS community identity, but that topic is too long for today!)
In other words, my perception is that there is a fear that if we allow age to catch up with us, we have to face the parts of ourselves we might not love, or have gotten to know before it is too late. So it is simply easier to ignore the reality of life. (Another side note, the concept of "finding ourselves" is also an entire other blog post coming soon…and we are diving deep into that one).
There is some kind of quiet fear that if we slow down enough to acknowledge we are growing older…we might “catch” the bug of old age. You see, I don’t believe it’s just death we’re afraid of, I believe it’s life. The fear of aging isn’t just related to a biological fact, it is a cultural fear. Many cultures outside of our western lens (both historically and currently) celebrate and cherish the aging process. Rather than hiding elders in hospitals and nursing homes, individuals are honored and respected. Our role as young people who care for our elderly has slowly slipped away, and with it, lessons that can never be learned from somewhere else. Is aging really that bad? Are these “negative” aspects of growing older actually as bad as our culture has labeled them?
Watching the people we love age is a strange experience.
Frequently, we get so busy worrying about how we ourselves are aging and slowing the process, I wonder if we realize that the people we love are growing older every day as well.
Lines grow deeper along the eyes of our mother, reaction times of our grandparents begin to slow, and our fathers begin to quote the effect of weather when they rise from a chair. People we love begin to think, and communicate a little slower. Maybe it’s because others give me so grace still as I still navigate the odd twists and turns of living with multiple TBI’s and the resulting fallout of memory loss and brain fog etc…but it always feels like a gift when you’re able to say “hey, it’s okay. We have time for you to find that word, or we don’t need it.”
What a beautiful lesson for us to slow down with the people we love.
To truly take the time to listen, rather than rush through a conversation. Yes, bodies sometimes become creaky and stiffer in colder weather. What a gift that we might be able to offer some physical stability, run a few errands in their stead or offer an arm to go outside and stretch those muscles.
Our culture has become obsessed with postponing age, rather than learning how we might age with more grace. We prioritize productivity, perceived success and monetary gain. This has become such an accepted aspect of life that when people no longer are able to prove these things to society, we quietly disregard them. Collectively, our society views those who no longer add monetary value to society as insignificant. It feels like such a shame that one of the greatest gifts we can be given, gifts of knowledge, experience and wisdom from our elders–continues to be quietly swept away into the background. Something to “deal” with later, rather than an existence teeming with knowledge and perspective, ready to offer sound counsel and comfort to younger souls.
Obviously, I do not have the answers.
Along with most of the topics I write about, this is simply something I ponder frequently. I challenge myself to ask these questions because I believe they matter.
As I grow older, I watch those I love grow older too. They never change, and yet every time I return home, a few more grey hairs and a little slower pace remind me of what a gift it is to slow down.
To walk in-step with them, and to listen a little more.
This time is a gift, let’s not take it for granted.