On a safari trip to Africa a few months ago, I ran into a group of so-called “active seniors,” people (like myself) who just don’t know when to quit fooling around and act their age. “Life is not what it used to be – thank goodness,” said one of the ladies in her mid-seventies with a wistful smile while training her state-of-the-art digital camera on the surrounding wildlife. “When I was young, old folks like me were never able to travel and enjoy their retirement years in such ways.” Not all of us do, of course. But, as they say, the times they are a changing.
We All Grow Old
But How Well We Age
Depends on How We Live
The aging boomer generation has helped to make us see retirement age in a new light. Playing golf and spoiling grandchildren are not our only options these days. Many seniors are better educated and more affluent than generations of retirees before them. They have interests and plenty of energy to pursue them. Healthier lifestyle choices and better medical care have elevated the average life expectancy considerably, making it not only possible but also necessary to plan for many more years of active living.
Indeed, today’s seniors find themselves very much encouraged to make the most of their ever increasing longevity. Entire bookstore sections are devoted to the subject of healthy aging. Lifestyle coaches and wellness gurus are at the ready to help us make the “golden years” a great experience. One famed author has even declared retirement to be “the power years.” Instead of taking up the proverbial rocking chair, we’re to consider our later days as a time for “repowerment.” Another publication insists that “growing old is not for sissies,” offering portraits of “senior athletes” to prove the point. And then, of course, there are a “thousand places” to see and a “thousand books” to read – all before we die. Life is an endless to-do-list to be completed before we meet the final deadline.
Unfortunately, all this enthusiasm about the possibilities and opportunities that old age still may hold overlooks the fact that aging is a natural occurrence and an inherent process that starts with birth. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are creatures with a limited life span. We last only for a brief moment in time, no matter what. As a friend of mine once said: Our chances of dying are one hundred percent. Trying our best to make life worth living in the meantime is all we can do.
So, I won’t try to become a senior athlete. I have no intention to lather my face with chemical substances or have it rearranged by a plastic surgeon. It’s the face I’ve got and I’m happy with it, wrinkles and all – I acquired them for good reasons.
Of course, I still have hopes and dreams for the time I have left, but I don’t pursue them as anxiously and vigorously as I used to in my youth. If I feel “empowered” at all these days, it is in part because I know the difference between what I realistically can expect from life and what is just a pipe dream.
Aging is an art form, I once heard someone say. I guess that can be said about life in general. It takes hard work and skill. It can be all very gratifying if we succeed in our efforts and are able to reap the benefits in time. If we fall short of our expectations – well, we can find comfort in the knowledge that neither our successes nor our failures matter all that much in the end. What counts the most is that we are truthful with ourselves and be comfortable with that.
As hard as it may be to imagine, we can look at aging as a goal, instead of a process of decline that must be fought every step of the way. Growing old has value that goes beyond loss and decay. In fact, considering life’s fragility, it can be quite an accomplishment.