Painting by Jo Ann Brown-Scott titled Red Sea at Night, Sailor’s Delight
As I was having dinner with a couple friends the other night we happened upon the subject of getting older – a subject we don’t dwell on here where we live but it does rear its gray and wrinkled head from time to time. We live in a lovely 55+ active senior community of over 7,000 households that affords us many choices for how we might enjoy spending our leisure time. Sun City here in Lincoln, CA is a state of the art senior retirement area that has it all. We are located in the rolling hills leading into the Sierras, halfway between SF Bay and Lake Tahoe, so we can certainly keep ourselves busy when we go “off campus” as well. There are many people here who still work, and many who do very well at staying productive and relevant although they are completely retired. I have had a part-tine job here for the past 3 years teaching adult art classes, so I fall somewhere in the middle. The lifestyle we wake up to every morning is a positive example for anyone over 55 who is dedicated to staying active and young at heart for as long as possible.
One of my friends mentioned that she doesn’t like to volunteer her age in social gatherings because some rude harsh realists instantaneously make a judgment to themselves about her when she does – mentally placing her in a category they see as appropriate to that number, thus stereotyping her based upon no actual factual information. It drove her crazy – she could see it happen before her eyes. They either made remarks of utter amazement at her ability to stay looking and acting so young, as if she was some mutant who had drunk from the fountain of youth, or they saw her as doomed any minute when her age finally caught up with her. So she made a conscious decision to be “age-free” similar to some people who never discuss their weight and refuse to acknowledge a scale.
They said recently on TV (and sometimes we want to believe what we hear on TV) that 70 is the new 50. Well! That got the attention of many people I know. You can call this denial or readjustment of numbers a silly tactic or you can call it clever marketing….. I happen to believe it is no one’s business how old you are or how much you weigh. Who cares. I certainly don’t. But I will say this – when you arrive at certain pivotal markers in life, you do begin to realize that you may no longer be in the “center ring”. You pick up on subtle clues…in a heated discussion of some topic, for instance, involving a group of people of which you are the oldest, you realize that no one cares what you think. No one asks, no one wonders, no one directs the conversation your way. Or perhaps a group starts making plans for an activity that is quite physical, maybe a hike, and instead of asking if you’d like to participate, they assume it’s going to be too strenuous for you and leave you out of the plans. No one wants to be dragging your sorry ass up the trail. And maybe it is too strenuous, but an invitation would still be nice. Please let me hold onto my dignity; I will decide what is too strenuous for me. Maybe I’ll die trying but that’s for me to decide. Maybe I’ll just stop halfway up and eat my lunch.
It is difficult to start feeling irrelevant long before you really are. Many cultures include the older members of the family in their extended living arrangements, and that seems to me a great way of elongating the productive years for seniors. There is usually something we seniors can contribute to the family whole that is valued and helpful, and being included in daily conversations and activities of the people you love is a crucial to feeling relevant. It has been proven that longevity is far more likely if accompanied by a healthy and happy quality of life that gives you several reasons to get up in the morning, whether it is a garden to tend, a pet to feed, a child to read to, a porch to sweep or just a friend to have coffee with on a regular basis.
The circus of life does have 3 rings, and even a carnival side-show. The trick is to figure out how you can continue to be productive in some arena. Then after that, be a little assertive about holding your place in the order of things. Don’t vacate your hard-fought territory. Offer your opinions, laugh and listen to the conversations around you. Insist on being the same you that you have always been. This is not our parents world; this is not Leave it to Beaver or Ozzie and Harriet. This is the brand new 21st century and the statistics say we are going to be around longer. However we choose to handle ourselves as active seniors, you can be sure we are being observed. We are the new Poster Children for active senior living. Let’s make some noise about it and leave everyone proud we were here for so long.