She grew up in the age ofAudrey Heburn films and, then, Twiggy. Women were supposed to be rail thin and tall to be considered beautiful. I didn't know her back then; I hadn't been hatched yet...and neither had my great grandparents (that's another story...) but I have seen photos. She may not have tall, but she was was very attractive. Not necessarily a raving beauty, but cute and pretty in her own right. Since I've known her, just over six years now, I haven't witnessed any changes in her, at least not physically, but she she sees every new line, dent, wrinkle, and sag. And she becomes alarmed, slapping on ever more face cream until, at some point, she becomes very sad. I know it's hard for her to see her youth and beauty fading right before her very eyes...and be powerless to stop it. And don't get me started on her weight. Yikes! That is a very touchy subject. Again, I don't see the change but, Boy Howdy, she sure does. Humans get a little pudgier as they age. That's just the way it is. But being "pudgy" isn' fashionable. And neither are wrinkles.
I recently read an article about the Japanese Ama...the "women of the sea"...who, for thousands of years, have plunged into the frigid waters of the Pacific to harvest abalone, pearls, and shellfish. These woman go down as deep as 30 feet in perilous dives without the aid of scuba equipent or oxygen tanks; they continue to do so well into their eighties! This allows them to earn a good living for most of their adult life. No social security and rocking chairs for them! Just over a hundred years ago, there were 18,000 Ama, but today their population has plimmeted to just over 2,000. Why? Because new technology and advances in fishing, as well as a dwindling marine population are, effectively, putting them out of business. If you ask an Ama why there are no men in their ranks they will, no doubt, laugh and tell you that men are too weak to do the job! These intrepid ladies don't worry about getting older because they are too busy living life, working at a job they love, to notice. We can all learn a valuable lesson on aging from these incredible women.
I blame a lot of the misconceptions on aging, that humans have, on the media. All the TV commercials and people in films are, for the most part, young, thin, and gorgeous. But real life isn't like that. So why don't the companies and film moguls show real ilife? It's because sex sells and they don't think humans will watch a movie, or buy a product, if it features an overweight old, grey-haird person. And maybe they're right. But there are plenty of attractive, fit, outgoing "seniors" these days that might serve as better, more accurate spokespeople for what real life looks like. Society, as we know it today, seldom lets people age with dignity and grace, This is true more so in western cultures than in eastern ones, where age is often revered. The elderly are treated with a great deal of respect and honor. Wouldn't it be grand if eveyone believed that living a long life was something to be envied?
I understad that aging isn't always fun. It comes with aches and pains, loss of friends and, all too often, a lack of financial well-being. If you look up books on aging on Amazon, hundreds of of titles appear but, for the most part, these books will offer advice on how to slow it down or stop it, how to disguise it, and how to reverse it. But not much has been written on how to simply grow old with grace and dignity. Books on that topic should sell well, but they don't. Humans are simply too afraid to grow old. They find the subject of aging with grace and dignity a little too unsettling; a reminder that death is inevitable. I find this a horrifying fact. The Buddha teaches that "every thing changes." Perhaps we'd do well to rephrase his statement to say, "Everything we love and cherish is going to age, decline, and eventually disappear. Including ourselves." The only constant in life, is change. Take your car, for instance. The minute you drive it off the new car lot, it decreases in value because it's no longer new (young) and it is used (got a few miles on it). So what? It's still runs and will get you where you need to go, even though it may no longer be bright and shiny. Shouldn't we learn to be more concerned with what's under the hood, like kindness, compassion, faith, and love? When humans are young, they don't pay attention to their youth. It just is. But as soon as they start on the downhill slope of life, finding a way to stop the descent seems to becomes an obsession, at least for many like my friend. Getting older can have its own rewards, however; like time spent with grandchildren, time to pursue avocations, and time to volunteer in your communities. Giving back, no matter your age, always makes us feel good. And when we feel good, we feel vital and have a sense of purpose again. And isn't that what life should be about?
Each day and every day for the next 20 years, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65. That's a lot of older citizens who will have the power of change. And change is way over due. The Grey Panthers are needed now, more than ever. It pains me to think of children, especially little girls, years from now still fretting over growing old. Growing old is a gift that not everyone gets to receive. Each day, the world looses many young humans; disease, violence, accidents, and war snuffing out their bright lights way before their time. I bet if you could ask them, they'd all tell you that they would love to opportunity to watch their children and grandchildren grow up. But they'll never have that opportunity. Science is making great strides in the advance of medicine that will, hopefully one day, prevent or cure most major life-shortening diseases. If a much longer and healthier life will become the norm for most humans, in the not-so-distant future, shouldn't we begin to change our attitude on aging now?
Rather than viewing aging as something to be avoided at all costs, why not look at it as winning the lottery? The biggest jackpot of all is getting to live a long and well-lived life.
For only the lucky get to grow old...and I hope my friend is one of them.