Thankfully, it hasn’t been a frequent occurrence. I remember the first time when, during a conversation, when I was met with the phrase, “Well, you’re old.” I can’t even remember the specifics of the conversation but there were two different perspectives being discussed. I do know that the conversation had nothing to do with aging or, more specifically, my age. My initial thought was, “What has that got to do with anything?” It was a tactic to deflect and redirect the conversation. But it was also symptomatic of something more mercurial. It was prejudice. It was ageism.
Prejudice is one way for people to demonstrate ignorance and stupidity. The word “old,” now hijacked and weaponized by the somnambulants, is a tool of ageism. It is a word that suffers from the burden of derogatory, biased, and euphemistic use. However, I am becoming old. I have no problem referring to myself as becoming old or being old. Nor do I need to replace the idea of becoming old with self-help diversions such as becoming an elder, wise sage, or any other brand.
For me, there is one primary developmental task of aging or becoming old. That task is to dedicate myself and practice a discipline of becoming more fully alive to the end of my days. In a biological sense, becoming old means senescence, functional decline, and a gradual loss of physical resilience. This is everyone’s destiny. In a psychological sense, it is the discipline of cultivating mental health and wellbeing while our ability to participate and interact with the world around us gradually contracts. I know I need to evolve my mind to accommodate the trials and tribulations of becoming old. Spiritually, however it’s business as usual and that business is to constantly broaden and expand the experience of being alive.
The self-help industry, of course, advises us otherwise. We are told that there are new stages or phases to attain and that we can obtain membership by purchasing books, attending seminars, or purchasing online courses. Of course, if any of this worked there would be no need for self-help at all. If the self-help industry were genuinely successful, it would render itself obsolete. The self-help industry has grown.
Today I participate in programs about “successful” aging, “creative” aging, or “fill in the adjective” aging.
I can pursue new “stages” beyond adulthood, such as elderhood or sagehood, and I can join various communities of elders.
I can choose to evolve from “aging” to”sage-ing.”
Even more nonsensically, I am even told that 90 is the new 50, or 80 is 50 – something like that.
There is a tremendous amount of obfuscation imposed on the experience of becoming old and of being old; more specifically, obfuscation in the guise of clarity ensures a perpetual need for products and services no one really needs.
Remarkably, pursing “old age” is does not seem to be recommended. Nor should I simply allow myself to “become older” or accept the condition of “being old.”
I am pursing old age. I am striving to make myself large enough to accommodate the experience of becoming older. And I am preparing myself for the condition of being old. After all, growing up, reaching maturity, becoming older, and reaching old age is what we are designed to do. And we can embrace that experience or not. We can choose to grow across the entire arc of life, or not. We can choose to embrace the privilege of being alive, or not. Whatever we choose to do, we will eventually, if we are fortunate enough, become old.
You will become old whether you want to or not. How you do that is up to you. It’s ok to explore some possibilities proposed by others. But you don’t need to brand yourself, join a club, or seek out a special status. In the end, there is only this…
You will have to dedicate yourself to living the choices you have made and accepting the consequences of your efforts, hopefully without regret, deep within the final phases of your life.
It may be that old age really does begin where earth meets the sky.
[Back to Frontier – Body]
- This article was inspired by “An Age-Old Problem: Who Is ‘Elderly’?” written by Linton Weeks for NPR.
- The idea of closing this article with the phrase where earth meets the sky comes from this article.
- NRP maintains a collection of article On Aging that may be of interest to you. At the tie of writing, most of these articles focus on the relationship between aging, U.S. politics, and the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The purpose of this article is about reclaiming the basic language of aging by removing of the fear, euphemisms, stereotypes, prejudice, and social immaturity that haunts everyday words such as aging, old, and elderly.
- Encyclopedia.com provides an interesting overview of language about aging.