Aging, Part II
Last week I wrote about the 'battle" against aging. Fortunately, there are ample rewards when we enter the stage of life Erik and Joan Erikson called "generativity." Now is our time to give back and nurture future generations. We can find joy in connecting to family, friends and our communities in new ways.
As Patricia Hampl wrote in a recent OpEd piece in the New York Times, "Baby Boomers reach the End of Their To-Do List," the essential part of the American ideal of "the pursuit of happiness" is pursuit. But there comes a time when we are free not to pursue. "How about just giving up?" says Hampl. "What about wasting time?" But it is not really wasted, because it allows us to discover "the lost music of wondering, the sheer value of looking out the window, letting the world float along. It's nothing, really, this wasted time, which is it how it becomes, paradoxically, charged with 'everything,' liberated into the blessed loss of ambition."
When one of my friends worries that she will be bored in retirement, I tell her that I am never bored. And it's not just because of all my activities - classes, volunteer work, museum visits, lunches with friends - but because even "wasting time" feels peaceful and fulfilling. I am no longer worried about my next career move. "We're reaching the other side of striving," says Hampl.
I was pleased to see in a recent study of older New Yorkers that the benefits I am enjoying are not restricted by income. "...people's levels of satisfaction with their life and their daily routines were not affected by their class and income level." In her article about the study, "Aging Lessons: The things that let you thrive in old age are easier than you think," Debra Bruno summarizes several lessons about aging, such as having a purpose and celebrating social connections. The participants in the study did not let physical infirmities or other challenges define them. They had routines based on things that mattered to them. And, having lived full and rewarding lives, they did not fear death. Perhaps the most important lesson I took away was from the project director, Dorian Block. "Every time we tell ourselves that we're too old, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy." It reminded me of a new sign I noticed at Pilates this morning, "If you hear a voice saying you can't do a new Pilates move, just do it and the voice will be SILENCED."
I know that when I finish writing this and get up from my computer my knees will protest, and I cannot claim to be at peace with this and other reminders of my age. But I love my new life. In his forthcoming book, ON the BRINK of EVERYTHING Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, Parker Palmer says "I don’t want to fight the gravity of aging. It’s nature’s way. I want to collaborate with it as best I can…" I hope I can find that path to collaboration.