Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Feeling One's Age

If you tell me, coyly, that you are 70 (or however many) years 'young',(which women frequently do) I cannot help but infer that you regard the word 'old' as at worst an insult or at best, something to be avoided. And that, I must remind you, is an ageist attitude. Same with " …but I am young at heart". Rubbish. Your heart is the same age as the rest of your internal organs. It may beat strongly and you may be full of joy and zest and enthusiasm for living, but that doesn't make you young. It simply means you are full of joy and zest and enthusiasm for living, and so we should all be, whether we are 5 or 50 or 93 or any other age.

But I don’t feel 70”, you protest. Wait a minute. Stop and think about that. How do you know what 70 – or any other age – feels like till you get to it? I am 72. So the way I feel now must be what 72 feels like. How could it be any other way? “I don’t feel (insert the number)...” is a totally daft statement, in any context whatsoever. Yet one hears it all the time. So where does all this daftness come from?

I was thinking about that this morning, the last day of the year. 2008 is about to be archived.

The years that have already passed lie flat, now, like pressed flowers. They have lost their roundness, their yearness. The are stacked on the shelf of memory, each flat year on top of the last flat year, like a deck of cards. Each lasted fifty-two big, fat, juicy weeks, yet each takes only a few seconds to recall, now. All we remember are the highlights – the few, special moments that make that year distinguishable from all the others.

Not just years are like this but months, weeks, days, individual moments; once they are over they become all flat and thin, too. Unless, like the dried wakame I put in my soup, we soak them a while, plump them out with tears of grief or laughter. Even then, it’s not like the real thing. We are only fully alive when we remain in this moment. The one that’s happening right now.

As soon as moments have passed, they start to desiccate, flatten, turn into thin leaves of memory that can easily blow away in the breeze like tissue paper. So maybe it is because they require so little room in storage that when we look back on all our years of living they don’t seem to take up enough space. Have I really lived 72 (and a half, actually) full, round, action-packed years? And is this latest one really ending - so soon?


Here goes another one into the pile on the shelf.

Happy New Year!


Anonymous said...

A very happy new year to you as well!
I thought of you the other day. I was stopped in our local shopping centre by a woman carrying out market research about the centre. Being in an unusually festive mood I agreed to answer her questions. (I fear I was a terrible disappointment to her because I told her I hated shopping there, it was a soulless place and I tried to visit as seldom as possible.)
At the end of the interview, she asked my age and I told her I was 55. My exact and only words were "I'm 55."
Her response was strange: "No need to be afraid, I'm 58."
It turned out she'd heard me say "I'm afraid I'm 55."
Isn't that interesting? I don't know if she was reflecting her own fears or simply that she'd heard similar from previous interviewees.

MaryContrary said...

Happy New Year, Marian. I find it amazing how easily the negative attitudes toward age that permeates modern society can infect me with its darkness. Every now and then I have to pull myself up and ask why my age has suddenly become such a millstone in my mind. When I do I find that I am as curious, ambitious, and full of anticipation as ever. If not more so. I don't normally make resolutions but, perhaps, on should make one--to fight this kind of negativity as soon as it rears its head.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts....
Thank you and Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Marian, love what you are doing with your blog and other online efforts. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done both in the online and the physical worlds, regarding agist attitudes.

Also, the plight of many older women is one of loneliness as they lose their mates, and find themselves isolated, and vulnerable, in the emptiness of their homes, or retirement dwellings. If the digital divide could be bridged, my thought is those women could draw so much comfort from sharing online with their other older sisters.

Thanks, for being such a bridge!


Elderwoman said...

Thanks for these great comments.
Yes, as you say loneliness is one of what William Thomas calls the 'three plagues' of old age - the other two being helplessness and boredom. I am currently reading his inspirational book 'What Are Old People For?' and it is brilliant. Definitely a recommended read.

PEACE said...

Happy New Year! I guess we say we feel younger than are age because we assumed we would feel much older by the time we made it up this big old hill!!
Actually after this year with the cancer and chemo I was beginning to feel my age. Glad to start a new year and put all that crap behind me and get back to my old-young self!

Nik said...

I love this post - although I am younger at 36, I really get what you're saying.

By the way, you commented on my blog about a year ago, so I've been following your posts since then. I finally got around to getting your book with some Christmas money and couldn't wait to start reading it. It's such a yummy read - I hope you don't mind me borrowing a line from page 10 that inspired the re-naming of my unschooling blog.

Happy new year!

sharryb said...

Hi Marian,
What a great column. A good reminder of the subleties of ageism, but way more than that. Your words about the year past and memory read like a fine poem.