Aging, Part I
My daughter once complained about having to keep her house (and the mess generated by a husband, two girls and two dogs) neat for prospective buyers. She was especially annoyed at a showing for an older couple she was sure would not want to live in a community dominated by families with young children. Before I could agree that people my parents' age would not be interested, she made it clear that the older couple was my age.
That was 10 years ago. I was in between receiving my AARP card and signing up for Medicare. I never thought of myself as old.
Now I do. And if I forget, the mirror provides a daily reminder.
Since the massive generation of baby boomers is or is about to be old, literature on aging is proliferating. Some of it is depressing. In his book Being Mortal. Medicine and What Matters In the End, the physician Atul Gawande says that "...we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology, and strangers." We treat old age as a disease, rather than an inevitable process. Nursing "homes" are "institutions" designed for efficiency, dreaded by those who know they will be giving up their independence.
We are bombarded with media urging us to defy aging. Rather than savoring this final stage of life, we are exhorted to battle against wrinkles, memory loss, and disabilities as though they were not a natural part of the aging process. Pills, creams, and gym memberships are offered as ammunition.
In her most recent book, Natural Causes. An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, Barbara Ehrenreich refuses to "accept a medicalized life..." She notes that the theme of books on aging is that "aging is itself abnormal and unacceptable," and that "successful aging" appears to be equivalent to "not aging at all." As someone who exercises because she enjoys it, rather than to stave off aging, she argues against replacing paid work with the "new job" of going to the gym. "The price of survival," she says, "is endless toil."
Like Ehrenreich, I exercise because I love the way it makes me feel. I love challenging myself and seeing progress in my strength and flexibility. I don't think of "working out" as work. But I am not happy about getting old and I resent what seems like a betrayal by my body. A friend of mine once said that conversations among people our age are "organ concerts." We share our aches and pains, list our replacement parts and compare our surgical procedures. I don't want to relive the angst of youth - but I would like to have that body again.