Anticipating being an elder

I have noticed that lately, when I tell people my ago (60) they rush to tell me, "Oh, you don't look anywhere near that old!" as if looking 60 were something odious, to fight and disguise.

When I tried to tell a friend I feel older, she cheerfully scolded me: "Don't say that! You're only as old as you feel."

I tried to explain myself: I
do feel older.

It takes longer to bounce back after draining work or a flight across six time zones. I sense the unfolding of history, the transit between eras: from five and dime stores to online shopping, from people smoking at their desks to not being able to light up even in public spaces.

I'm getting cranky: can I just please be my age? I want to be 60 so that I can get on with this developmental stage of life, even if I live nearly 40 years more, as my mother did.

I have long been interested in Erik Erikson's Developmental Stages: his theory that we have some innate characteristics but others are learned during specific stages of growth. Late Adulthood (55 or 65 to death) can be a time of celebration for what one has contributed, a sense that life has meaning and value, but also some growing detachment from the striving and accomplishment of the preceding stage, Middle Adulthood.

He calls the developmental challenge at this stage "Integrity vs Despair". Despair is what happens when one feels "is this all there is?", that you have wasted your talents or time. The gift of achieving Integrity is a connection not only to ones' family, but also to the human family.

Of course there's sporadic mourning for diminishing muscle tone, or knowing I'll never read a newspaper without a pair of glasses again. But it's not such a big deal. From here to whatever's on the other side, I hope to savour the delights and endure the trials as ably as possible.

If I'm
not quite at that final stage, I am preparing to be there, and that interests me far more than "How Not to Look Old". There's a lot of growing to do between the pink lip gloss and the formaldehyde.

So I don't want to ignore or erase my hard-earned Late Adult years. At left, M.F.K. Fisher (a writer I love) at this point in her journey, and isn't she fully alive?

"When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and the warmth of the love of it, and it is all one."
-M.F.K. Fisher

16 comments

Imogen Lamport said...

I love your attitude Duchesse. I'm glad that you still want to keep growing and that gives a youngie like me hope!

Frugal Scholar said...

As I read the beginning of this, I started to think of MFK Fisher, and then, lo and behold, there she was. She wrote a lot on aging at the end of her life; I guess it's time for me to re-read it.

Wonderful post.

Deja Pseu said...

I've known a few women who were vibrant and engaged throughout their elder years. And yes, "not looking old" was the least of their concerns. I'm adding some MFK Fisher to my reading list.

Julianne said...

I love this post. It is all the things I think about daily. I am not quite there yet, but I guess I am the elder in my family as all my family and parents are deceased.

I am constantly reminiscing and thinking that I want to make sure I do all the things and experience all the life that I desire before my time is over.

In graduate school, I wrote a paper on Erikson. I loved his theory and thought it was a lifespan theory that made the most sense.

I wish I didn't care about looking old. I used to think that was the silliest thing; until it happened to me. I guess I am vain. Great and thought provoking post.

WendyB said...

I can't believe that pink lip gloss isn't the most important thing in the world ;-)

materfamilias said...

Lovely post, Duchesse. I've been feeling and thinking some of this lately as well. In the First Nations program at my uni. there are elders who are part of the faculty -- their education is not formal or academic, but rather an education in life and in their culture. I'm always inspired when I hear them speak or watch them interact with students, and I'm pleased to see a culture that works to keep alive its appreciation of elders -- I suspect we boomers are going to force that appreciation on our youngsters -- we've always been a bossy bunch!

spacegeek said...

Okay so I'm much younger than you--at 39. But I just turned this age yesterday, and I'm happy about it. I always dressed "too old" for my age. I've had a great deal of responsibility in my job, and now I feel like people will see it as my rightful place, rather than looking at me like an upstart. I'm glad to be "older" and feel good about what is still in front of me. It is a nice mental place to be.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I visited my daughter in China and what a comparison to our youth oriented culture. Being a mother was grounds for respect and special treatment. But even more,being the mother of a TEACHER made me a rock star!!! I was treated like royalty and everybody wanted to meet me. But then, Chinese culture is very old, and our is young. Culturally, I think of us (Americans)as junior high--eeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww! When I see the patina of a silver tray or beautiful, but faded, roses I think of aging with beauty and grace.

Duchesse said...

Thanks, materfamilias and Anonymous for noting that aging is respected in other cultures. Is North America youth-idolizing because it is a young country (except for the First Nations)?

Can we "force appreciation" on younger generations, and if so, would we want it if it were gained by coercion?

Completely Alienne said...

This was a thought provoking post Duchesse. I have been feeling something of this lately. I am 52, and very conscious of increasing stiffness, and taking longer to get over things but at the same time I have two teenagers around me growing into young women and often making me feel older than I am! I shall investigate Erikson - it sounds an interesting theory.

Karen said...

I am already preparing for the grave. I know exactly how I want my coffin decorated and the dress I want to be layed out in is already pressed and ready to go.

Is there really a point for trying to look younger when we all face the same ending to our life stories?

Looking younger is what gets us in big trouble. Looking good at our age is what we should aspire to. At least I do.

Duchesse said...

Karen: I am thinking of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' quote which says the real tragedy is not death but dying thinking "how I have wasted my life."

None of us knows how ling we have... I just received word that a 50 year old friend has but a short time to live, a complete surprise to everyone.

lagatta à montréal said...

I can't afford the detachment. Freelancer, will probably have to work till I'm 80, then can kick off.

I like positive attitudes but at the same time getting older diminishes our chances for so many things, whether work, romance or travel.

Not the least interested in being an "elder".

neki desu said...

hear ye! hear ye!
in a world that lacks older women as role models this post nails it down.


neki desu

Duchesse said...

lagatta: I am not "detached" and am also a freelancer with a very active business. My clients hire me because of my experience, acquired over 35 years in my field. Some of them use the word "wisdom" when expressing their appreciation.

lagatta à montréal said...

Duchesse, I most certainly wasn't referring to you! But to this passage:

I have long been interested in Erik Erikson's Developmental Stages: his theory that we have some innate characteristics but others are learned during specific stages of growth. Late Adulthood (55 or 65 to death) can be a time of celebration for what one has contributed, a sense that life has meaning and value, but also some growing detachment from the striving and accomplishment of the preceding stage, Middle Adulthood.

Considering he lived to be 92, his "late adulthood" spanned practically half his life. There is a great distance from 55 to 92!