"How we react to works of art depends on who we are, where we are standing and when we encounter them." -- Margaret MacMillan, "War: How Conflict Shaped Us"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Age Gracefully

     Let's face it, soon or later we all get old, assuming we're still around at all. There's nothing we can do about it -- except maybe try to do it with some class, and not burden ourselves or our loved ones with all the consequences and complications.

     It doesn't matter if we're 55 or 75. We can still approach our senior years with some style and grace. Here are a few suggestions that have occurred to me. Maybe you have others.

     First of all, we've already heard all the jokes about colonoscopies, senior moments and midnight bathroom breaks. We're not going to add anything new, so let's just skip on to other things -- topics that don't so indelibly stamp us as an old geezer. Sure, other people may share your health issue and want some information. But let's not dwell on infirmities and disabilities. There must be other things in our lives to talk about-- the books we've read, the movies we've seen, the places we've been, the plans we're making.

     Also, let's try not to harbor regrets or grudges. Are you still pining for an old boyfriend, or feeling disappointed because you didn't get into your first-choice college -- or didn't go to college at all? Are you holding a grudge against a colleague who was once promoted over you, or regretting an opportunity you were too dumb to take? There's nothing we can do about it now, so let it go. And we shouldn't feel that we have to keep our old mistakes a deep, dark secret. Talk about them. Share them with friends. Even Frank Sinatra had a few regrets. We might even find humor in what we once thought was an embarrassing or humiliating episode.

     The days of office parties, long lunches and business trips with people we don't even like are over. We have no more obligations, except perhaps to your family -- so we shouldn't feel as if we have to accept a dinner invitation from a boring neighbor. We should be able to socialize with people who make us happy. Go where we want to go, as the old song goes, do what we want to do.

     Along the same lines, we often read retirement advice urging us to stay productive, chalk up more achievements. That's great, if you're motivated in that direction. But many of us feel we've been doing that for 40 years -- and now we want to kick back and enjoy life. What's the point of retiring if you have to get up early, rush off someplace where you might not want to go, and then stumble home at night tired and exhausted and stressed out? Some retirees only want to sit around the kitchen table and read the newspaper, then lie around the backyard an watch the clouds drift by. There's nothing wrong with that!

     Our days of trying to impress others, trying to keep up with the Joneses, should be long gone by now. If you want to start an exercise program, or a diet, or zen meditation, do it because you want to, not because a friend or neighbor is pressuring you into it. There are lots of reasons to eat right, exercise regularly and challenge your mind. But we should do it only if it makes us feel better, not because we think we'll fit in better. In other words, be yourself. If you want to let your hair go gray, who cares? If you don't want to wear a tie anymore . . . hey, there's no dress code for retirement!

     Finally, in retirement I think we should all be able to look ourselves in the mirror -- and like what we see. When we were young we might have wanted to look like a movie star or an NFL quarterback. But now, guess what? You're not a movie star. You're not a quarterback. So we can finally become comfortable looking like ourselves. That's not to say we shouldn't try to look our best -- but it's our best, not someone else's idea of what looks acceptable. A few lines on the face give us character. Age spots show maturity. Gray hair proves we've got some gravitas.

     You should listen to me. Because all I've got is gravitas!


Anonymous said...

Life is short for some and long for others, my mil lived to almost 87 and she was pretty miserable, she smoked for about 70 years and pined for her husband who fathered 8 kids never to support her and the 8 kids he fathered..I could only be around her for a few minutes the smoke and bitching in her home was too much for me, I made coffee and always brought good food I had made..She stopped the bitching and tried to be kind and loving or what she called it keeping company..She adored my husband the first of her second family a boy but toooo bad she never cut loose the father of the other 8 kids sooner she could have had a great long life free of a lot of crap..I don't spend time with toxic people and I have no time for people who bitch all the time, I volunteer and am happy and tired in the evenings, my hubs is the happiest person from such a family I could ever imagine, he is positive, loving and kind never got that from either parent must have been his Rabbi Grandfather and other relatives..I say carry on in life like you are gonna live to 100 GRATEFULLY, HAPPILY AND NICELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

stephen Hayes said...

Great advice. I don't think I've ever been accused of having gravitas.

Anonymous said...

You wrote about things that I have been thinking about for many years. I am what I am and who am I trying to impress?

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Wonderful post, Tom, with great advice and insights! I think self-acceptance is the greatest gift we can have at this stage of life: it makes so many other things possible.

Denise said...

Tom, you have written what I have said (as Gigi agrees) for years. (I've only been retired for two years) Ever since I was 6 years old, I had to get up in the morning and do something for someone, with the exception of summer vacations from school. I started college the week after I graduated from high school and graduated in three years, starting a job the following week. I have had a couple of situations of unemployment during my life, and raising kids is NOT unemployment. After 55 years of doing something that someone else wanted me to do, it is FINE to do what I want! I still have a mother living so I do have responsibility there, but other than that, I want to do what I want to do! I'm going to share.

Unknown said...

Amen Tom. Great post. We all need to hear I am enough the way I am.

Olga said...

Good advise at any age, but now we have the wisdom to follow it.

Pam said...

So much valuable advice here...if there was ever a time we should try to make peace with ourselves (and others), IT IS NOW.

Sally Wessely said...

Sometimes, I miss the days gone by, but it is freeing to know that I no longer have to put myself out there everyday like I had to do when I was working. I thought of how I used to travel when I was working. Those were great days of meeting new people and exchanging ideas. I would come away from these trips invigorated. Now, I know that I no longer have the drive to do such things. My focus has shifted. I feel great walking around the same block seeing the same sights day after day. The crazy thing is that those same sights change according to the season, the light, the mood I'm in. I enjoy contemplating the simple sights and sounds and the easy companionship of my husband and my dog. Accepting where I am in life is a wonderful thing.

olynjyn said...

This post came at a great time for me...my daughter is getting married November 7. I am not a rhinestone and glitzy person, but I am wearing a gown because she asked me to. I was just thinking this morning that I should be more focused on what I am wearing and then decided that when I got married, I was just thrilled that my grandparents were there and I couldn't tell you what they wore. I am about the same age as they were then and I will just focus on the bride and what I can do to make her day happy. I am not getting my nails done or my hair in an updo, but I will wear a gown she asked me to wear and just be myself, at this age, just a proud mother of the bride. Looking 66 years old doesn't mean I will look like Eleanor Roosevelt did, but the best version of myself that I can pull together and still feel comfortable and enjoy her wedding day.

Wisewebwoman said...

As I read your post, which couldn't have been more timely, I reflected that I always want to present as a "doing" never a "being" in spite of my own good intentions. My value (to myself) is accomplishments.

You've really got me thinking of how I can best be more of a "being".


Rosaria Williams said...

Gee, Tom, are you feeling guilty, or what? You are very wise for your age, btw, gravitas or not.