I was talking to a woman the other day who told me that she and all of her friends think that getting older sucks. Her mind set was the opposite of my own. We all deal with this phase of life differently. Some people go into it with a smile on their face and a heart full of gratitude and others dig in their heels, incensed that they are losing their physical beauty as well as flexibility and strength in their bodies. They may be taking care of an older parent, whose physical and mental changes seem daunting and frightening to them, and that can certainly color the way that we view getting older.
My close friends and I are all still planning hikes and trips, bike rides and book groups. But I don’t want to sugar coat it. Even though we are living full and robust lives, aging is set against a backdrop of loss. Connective tissue grows brittle. Physical beauty wanes. Friends, siblings and parents pass away. People we know and love get sick and succumb to a greater vulnerability. Loss takes up a home, right next to the love in our hearts.
Still, this is the best time in history to grow old: In our parent’s generation, if you broke your hip, you were consigned to a wheel chair. Today we can replace body parts like car parts. Seniors are living active, vibrant lives due to new knees or new hips. My neighbor across the street had a stroke a couple of months ago. Within 40 minutes of that stroke, the emergency room gave her a drug that reversed most of the stroke’s effects and prevented worse damage. The outcome? She had six weeks of physical therapy and some exhaustion to deal with from the trauma. Now, it’s like she never had a stroke. Medical advancements contribute greatly to the quality of an older life.
What you think and how you talk to yourself determines how you feel: We know that what we eat determines how our body feels. Food creates certain chemicals in our body. You won’t feel very good if you’re drinking sodas all day and eating sugar and carbs with nary a vegetable in site.
Similarly, what we feed our minds also creates chemicals in our body. Self-talk that berates age and the aging process, will not help us to feel good about life. Attitude counts.
Physical Activity: My husband’s favorite advice about aging is to “keep moving.” Walking everyday, yoga, Pilates, biking, dancing, anything that gets us out into our community to move helps us to feel good. Exercise increases blood flow, gets our heart rate up and strengthens our lungs. We benefit from the endorphins released during exercise that helps to stave off depression.
Meditation and Prayer: As I grow older, I notice that my prayers tend to be more about “thank you,” than asking for things. Maybe I’ve finally learned that God is not a cosmic bellhop. Whether it’s prayer, meditation or conscious breathing practices, some form of deep stillness everyday contributes to an overall sense of well-being.
Letting go: Letting go is the antidote to the sense of loss that youth has abandon us. And, letting go is the encouragement we give to a younger generation with whom the hope of the future rests. The shedding of thoughts and attitudes that don’t nourish our heads and hearts can unburden our creativity and our sense of wonder.
Curiosity and Engagement: The world is an interesting place, but we need to be involved. Women’s and men’s groups, book groups, film groups, church groups and classes are readily available. We can learn a foreign language if we want to. The library provides any book on any topic and also has an array of free classes. We can knit or garden or walk the dog. Aging with a positive outlook depends upon the lens through which we see the world, and curiosity offers a beautiful overview.
We cannot change the events in our life. Things happen. We might get sick or injured in older age. But sickness and injury can happen when you’re younger too. Regardless of how we face the years, we have control over our attitudes. We can make gratitude and kindness a daily practice. We can engage with our real and digital communities and our families in ways that inspire us to keep trying to be better people.
Life is so precious in this third chapter precisely because we are vulnerable; because of the expiration date stamped upon our souls. But I find comfort in the fact that I can can change and grow spiritually and psychologically until the day I die.
Knowing that we are in the last chapter, shouldn’t we come to peace with our selves and the world by nourishing gratitude, kindness and love in our lives? Shouldn’t we go out like shooting stars, having lived as fully as we could, until we’ve wrung every last bit of joy from our lives? That’s one choice. The other is, that getting older sucks.