Gray Pride

Last week I took two Pilates lessons, biked 10 miles on two separate occasions, swam a half-mile, painted two walls of my kitchen and one in my basement, sent short stories to twenty literary magazines, recorded a podcast, went out to dinner and went to New York to see a reading.

It didn’t help. I’m still getting older and now my back hurts.

Getting older, as the popular meme has it, is not for sissies. Of course, advertising agencies are bound and determined to counteract that message with a line of persuasive arguments that taking this or that medicine can restore you to full function and make you content, if not happy with your life.

Ever notice how very slowly the people in those ads are moving? Sure, it beats not moving at all, but that’s setting the bar a little low.

older sophisticated couple

Don’t we wish we could all age like this?

The hardest part about growing older is not physical or mental but social. We live in a youth-oriented society. We pretend otherwise, especially as advertisers are lately realizing it’s the older folks who have the disposable income. This may explain how it is they come up with phrases like “golden years” and hawk cruises for couples and Viagra for gray-haired men and their much younger-looking wives.

But most people in the senior citizen demographic can’t help notice how invisible they become as they age. For women, it’s just north of sixty, for men a little later but eventually, older citizens are just so many short people behind the wheels of large cars.

“Age is a number,” my (mostly younger) friends like to say. But age is a way to measure how much time you’ve had and how much time you have left. In this country, the former is scarcely honored and the latter induces a panic that fuels both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Even so, it’s difficult, when you’re looking around, not to notice not being noticed.

Aging in a first world country is a first world problem, if you’re lucky—that is; if you have insurance and someone you can guilt or hire into looking after you in your declining years. Before then, sagging skin, minor aches and a dearth of fashion choices aren’t even close to critical in a world where so many of the very young and very old are so very vulnerable.

Still, I spend a lot of time thinking and it’s pretty hard to avoid thinking about infirmity, loneliness, mortality, and yes, even relevance. One moves from wanting to contribute something (and be recognized for doing so) to hoping not to be too much of a drain. It’s not a fun journey.

This ruminating goes on largely out of sight. I promised myself I would age gracefully, or at least graciously. I mentor, I share, I don’t dwell on the good old days or reflexively disparage “all” young people; heck, I’ve even got friends representing several generations. I take my role as village elder seriously.

Of course, I also promised myself not to get cranky as I get older and I’m having difficulty keeping that promise. It helps that I recognize my bad mood as based less on pain and immobility (yet) than on fear and projection.

There are gilt-tinged nuggets and rays of sunlight in the dismal dreariness of time’s march. I’m generally less stressed, far less competitive (if I ever really was) and (big change) far less concerned with what people think of me. This allows me to render opinions that gain in clarity and conviction what they may have lost in influence or reach.

So while I don’t cry out “Bring it on!” (as if I had a choice in the matter), I am learning to take a quieter sort of satisfaction in the way I’m meeting my new, older self—with a mixture of attention, adjustment and acceptance. It’s not hubris, or if it is, it’s tempered by the humility that comes from understanding the fragile nature of one’s existence.

Still. . . those walls didn’t paint themselves.

Geraldine Doyle, model for WWII "We Can Do It!" poster at age 85.

Geraldine Doyle, model for WWII “We Can Do It!” poster at age 85.

About Nikki

Author of non-fiction books HOPE IN SMALL DOSES and BECAUSE I SAY SO as well as numerous published essays. Now working on a mystery series.
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10 Responses to Gray Pride

  1. Joe Orban says:

    First rate writing and first rate thinking.

  2. amy a says:

    Timing is so perfect. Upon my return to work today I previewed a new TV commercial for seniors. The woman on the commercial looks my age except she has hair that still contains pigment. No stopping the inevitable so you better enjoy the ride. Great piece

  3. Boanerges says:

    A thoughtful, insightful post, and it got me thinking about certain things.

    I feel all my years in my bones and muscles — or lack thereof. Stuff I could do with ease just a decade ago now takes much more out of me, and it’s irksome.

    Still, I remember what my grandmother, who lived to age 96, used to say with a smile: That somewhere inside her was the 18-year-old girl who worked in a military hosiery factory all during the First World War. She never lost sight of who and what she was. I don’t plan to, either.

  4. Matt Paust says:

    Your yout’ sparkles in your prose, Nikki.

  5. Anne Born says:

    Age is not about numbers. It’s way cooler because now you know things you can share with nice young people. And NOT share with the folks who irritate you. As in, “watch out for the icy patch!” Or not …

  6. rpelley says:

    My walls are taunting me as we speak. I phone my 90 year old mother and sometimes tell her that my hipbones ache. “Oh, honey!” she says. “Enjoy it now; it will get so much worse!” But then she laughs…”Just keep moving and do something for someone else every day. Sometimes you won’t notice it so much.” Grace in the journey…she has it. You’ve described it. I hope I’ll rise to it as well. I Love this Nikki!! xo

  7. Lezlie Bishop says:

    But age is a way to measure how much time you’ve had and how much time you have left. In this country, the former is scarcely honored and the latter induces a panic that fuels both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Even so, it’s difficult, when you’re looking around, not to notice not being noticed.

    Perfectly stated, Nikki.
    Lezlie

  8. James Long says:

    Nicely done Nikki, I identified greatly with the “Ben Gay” tone. Pay close attention to not overdoing life, but remember that there are “salves” to make life fun and fulfilling. Yep, those walls didn’t paint themselves.

  9. Roger Wright says:

    “There are gilt-tinged nuggets and rays of sunlight in the dismal dreariness of time’s march.” Brilliant!

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