Thursday, March 17, 2011
When is it OK to be old?
I'm still thinking about this article from last week's New Yorker, about G. Stanley Hall and the study of old age. One of the ideas from the article continues to provoke and intrigue me: that old age catches us all by surprise because no one can survive it, no one can look back on it and reflect upon it.
In a perfect world, we would embrace old age, claim it, take it on. If we could do that, rather than feel ashamed, we could reflect on it in the moment. Maybe we could then write or teach something USEFUL to those who haven't yet become old. Ya think?
In societies in which there are very few people who survive to old age, old people are revered. In societies such as the U.S. in the 21st century, in which there are tons of old people, they are reviled.
Am I old? I'm 58. One hundred years ago I would have been considered well on my way into old age; the average life span in the U.S. was 50. In the year 2011, women in my society live into their 80's, men into their late 70's, on average, which I guess makes me a late middle-ager. I guess.
I'm supposed to be proud that I don't have very many wrinkles, but why would I be proud of that? It's genetic, I didn't do anything noble to have smooth skin, just as I didn't do anything wrong by aging. I just haven't died yet. Why is that so disgusting?
I love my gray hair which is why I'm always surprised and mildly insulted when people hint about how young I could look if I went back to coloring it. I could get away with claiming I'm ten years younger than my actual age. Wink, wink. It's so weird.
Every time I try to claim old age, someone tells me I think and behave like a young person. I'll admit I want to admonish my friends who do that generational thing of rejecting technology and such, which proves that I buy in, on some level, to the idea that thinking like an old person is "bad."
So what should I do? Should I refuse to claim old age until I'm so decrepit that I can no longer reflect on it, write about it? Is it wrong to prematurely claim old age, try to get a jump on it? What age is old age? Can someone please explain?
It's going to be warm in DC today. I plan to take a long walk, snap some pics, and ponder all these impossible questions. Happy Thursday. Shalom.