Is Aging Really a Scourge?
The Older I Grow, The More I Know
Cultural Ideas About Aging
Western culture abhors the idea of aging. The extremities to which some individuals go to hang desperately onto youth can be amusing, if not sobering. Does growing old necessarily mean growing ugly, infirm or demented? In actuality, growing old is simply another phase of existence.
For most teens, the idea of old age is akin to being useless, non-functioning mentally and physically and an inconvenience best ignored till it "goes away." This thinking generally lasts until young adults marry and become parents. This is generally when they begin revisions to their thinking. Suddenly, their parents are relied upon for wisdom when these new parents discover that maturity can't be avoided by wishing it away. For grandparents, this is a time of new freedom and a reawakening of all of the plans their parenting years put off.
By the time their now adult children reach full middle age, a kind of underlying resentment exists between them and their children's grandparents. The mystery of this resentment is that in most cases it's linked clearly to fear of growing as old as their parents. Old age stares the forty and fifty-somethings in the face each time they see another wrinkle in their parents' faces. They begin to observe the physical declines in their parents and wonder how they can avoid the ordinary aches and pains of being old and worse, looking old.
This is the middle age phase of life that tries desperately to recapture youth without realizing how unseemly it makes them appear to their children. Mom shares clothes with her daughter. Dad tries to compete in sports with his son. Mom and Dad try to keep the glow of their romantic lives separate from that of their children with twosome jaunts they hope will somehow avoid the 800 lb. gorilla that lies at the back of their streams of consciousness: They are growing older. They are losing their youth. They might be an ugly "old" person in just a matter of a decade. They might be seen by their children as a "useless inconvenience to be ignored."
In the United States and many other western countries of the world, growing old is synonymous with having the plague. Growing old is anathema to the all too youth oriented. Plastic surgery, botox injections, hyperbaric chambers and a host of other youth-retraining gimmicks become a major annual cost of hanging onto that "youthful glow."
What these late middle agers don't seem to admit is that their bodies don't care what their youthful minds are telling them. Their bodies can and will dominate how they age. Physiologically, the human body is pushed to the limits with daily stress, lack of proper nutrition and exercise and the mental forces that insist perennial youth is the only goal.
Pushing (Punishing) the Body to the Limits
Everyone knows that exercise and good nutrition based on a healthy diet has numerous benefits. The only thing these things can't do is undo hundreds of years of ancestral DNA and gene pools. Yet, the late middle aged attempt to defy the science of human genomes by pretending "it won't happen to me." For example, many of European ancestry are hosts to several genetic diseases, chief among which is diabetes, generally accompanied by high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Off they run to the local health food store to find daily supplements they hope will "cure" them of genetic disease. As usual, the body has the final voice. Those tiny little genes do all the talking, often loud and clearly.
The shock to the older middle aged is that they have no control over genetic diseases. Their only hope lies with maintaining good health via proper diet and exercise. Half of this age group recognize this. The other half admit defeat and "let themselves go."
The half who recognize the need for proper diet and exercise often go to extremes. They jog until they injure their muscles and tendons. Attend exercise classes geared to those twenty years younger and wonder why their spinal discs become damaged. They take classes in boxing, martial arts and dance that push their bodies hard, harder and hardest to their limits. They focus on "survival" courses like rock wall climbing, hiking up the most dangerous climbs and generally refusing to admit their aging bodies are screaming in pain for respite.
The other half indulge in membership in the couch potato league, sit at computers all day and become sedentary, overweight and underexercised by the time they are fifty five years old.
All while their now sixty to eighty something parents seem to have found a new level of personal acceptance and philosophical knowledge that growing old is just a phase of life. With one important caveat: They have the kind of freedom to achieve all the items on their "bucket lists."
This is the generation that married young, had their children before their thirties and worked until retirement. It's also the generation that understood balance in all things as a operative to maintaining good health. They never worried about not getting enough exercise. A push-style mower, ringer washer and outdoor line dryer was the ultimate convenience and their daily exercise. The opportunities for excessive living was mostly the domain of the rich. The rest of the then middle aged bumped along parenting as they were parented and managed households on incomes that today would be considered poverty levels. Yet, they refuse to be "victims" of circumstance. They learned the difference early on what they could and couldn't control in their lives. They made mistakes, didn't possess a morbid fear of failure and took responsibility for their actions and decisions. They raised their children as they had been raised: to be respectful, courteous and cooperative to others in order to achieve goals.
One of the blessings of this age group is the wisdom they've gained through the normal aging process. So much so, that their wisdom often is misunderstood by younger generations unwilling to accept that the older their parents grow, the more they know by sheer virtue of daily living through their experiences and actions. This is where the Great Bear Resentment begins to extend its claws between the young and the middle aged.
Oddly, most aging seniors choose to view this resentment as "childish tantrums," as they go on their merry way to their final rest. Make no mistake. The aging generation is aging physically, not mentally. It's one reason from their young adulthood they were referred to as "The Forever Young" generation. Perhaps, this proved to be more than truth. This is the generation growing old while raising grandchildren and assisting their own children financially through difficult economic times.
Growing Old in a Youth-Oriented World
Growing old isn't a death sentence. In fact, it's a testing ground for all of those prior years of learning from mistakes, creating with new innovative ideas and generally contributing to and cooperating with the structure of society as it evolved. The basic problems of growing old in a youth-oriented world is somewhat hidden beneath layers of seniority. When every media blurb consists entirely of half-naked men and women's bodies, the older generation laugh at the hormones of their middle aged children that are still raging long past the age of propriety.
When clothiers create clothes in styles designed for a stick thin, nearly malnourished middle age body, the older generation is amused at the pathetic attempts at hanging on to youth far too long.
The older generation has always had the ability to roll with the punches and defend themselves from the onslaught of attacks on aging. This may be where their greatest successes lie. Yet, in the minds of many of the aging, they view the obsession with youth as alien to normal human growth. Growth is what the body and mind do best. Yet, retarding that natural growth seems somehow to be an attempt to control the most basic human operative: growing old, growing in wisdom and experience.