As I and my friends, as well as many seventy-ish women I know and read about, are aging, we seem to be getting aware of so many issues that had hardly ever occurred to us before now. Or, if they did, we thought that they were too far down the road yet. But, lo and behold! Here we are!
The more people I talk to, the more I find that Alzheimer’s is probably foremost on most of our minds. (Having just returned from my Aunt Mary’s funeral in London – 100 years old; eight of them bed-ridden with Alzheimer’s – I am even more sensitive to this topic) So, of course, this disease is quite petrifying and disconcerting because it renders us subsequently to be totally helpless and, ergo, robs us of the ability to be in control: we lose our mental faculties and then, slowly, our physical faculties as well, and what could be more daunting than that thought?
Then, of course, there are all those other diseases and conditions associated with our aging process: Parkinson’s disease, cancer, incontinence, kidney failure, arthritis, hip and joint replacements, infirmities of all kinds and sorts; not that younger people aren’t susceptible to these conditions, however, the older one gets the closer loom all these ailments.
Some of us are more cavalier about it all, jaunty even, and seem to go on with our lives while appreciating and enjoying every precious moment; on the other side of the spectrum there are the totally paranoid, as one woman I know who talks of nothing else but who is sick, who died and what gruesome ailments and absurd preventives she has recently heard of in the shallow bubble of her existence. Quite pathetic!
Amidst all of this, there is one condition that I have hardly ever heard anyone discuss and that is: Irrelevance. (And, no, there is no pill for that one yet!) This condition, I strongly feel, is what saddens and depresses older people more than anything else that I have mentioned herewith; more than the thought of any of the dire diseases. It is the feeling that you are not as important to your family any more, or significant in other people’s lives. It is a malady that sneaks up on us slowly, surreptitiously, and it is, sadly, quite rampant. I know and have seen many people like that gazing into the scary distance; into their miserable aloneness; into their demoralizing insignificance. Quite heartbreaking!
Having said that, there are many people who live well into their nineties and who are still very relevant to themselves, to their families and to their communities. The happiest and most fulfilled people I know and who feel the most relevant are making the most of every day that they are alive and still in control of their faculties. Not in an effort to relive their youth – be real, that chimera is not going to happen! – but in an endeavor to leave those around them with as many pleasant memories of themselves as they can; more importantly, they are contributing in whatever way into making our world a better place, for it’s never too late and there are hundreds of venues where we can all do that. Relevant people are not involved merely with their selfish needs, their trivial comforts, inconsequential possessions and petty existence – which contribute nothing to humanity and which we all somewhat indulge in – but excited and enthusiastic about life outside of them and, despite the horrendous injustices and misery on our planet, they remain positive and never give up on their fellow human beings! Never!
The most exhilarating aspect of our aging in this era is that we do not have to follow any certain traditional pattern as our grandmothers and mothers did; we do not have to tie our white hair back in a bun, put a shawl around our shoulders and sit in a rocking chair knitting away the hours. We can identify and chart our own path; we can choose how to define our aging looks, our style, our interests, our activism and passions. Those of us who have been battling for female equality and freedom, for instance, are finding out that, while the battle is not yet over, it has certainly come a long, long way in our own life span and that is a huge reason for excitement and celebration! It is, also, a rallying cry to actively persevere and to pass on the baton and our experiences to the new, younger generation so they may remain vigilant. There are other changes too that are quite incredible and that have occurred in our lifetimes, especially during the past fifty years. This world, our world, is a fascinating place with so many seductive choices that can keep us relevant . . . with so many issues that deserve our attention and activism . . . and should, could, perhaps and maybe at some point we do become incapacitated? Well, after that . . . Que Sera Sera . . . Whatever will be, will be . . . meanwhile, and as one very astute man once told me: when I got to the age of sixty-six and retired, I told my wife that every day after that when I can still function and be relevant is a bonus that I will put to use for the betterment of our world and my fellow human beings. In other words: Carpe Diem! Yes, indeed! Seize the day!