You’re Asking the Wrong Question

Jan - Purple 2

I’m sorry. Let me say this in the kindest possible way. Asking me what I will do to stay ‘young at heart’ as I get older is ageist.

Why would anyone assume that it is better to be young at heart than old at heart unless being old at heart implied a lot of unpleasant, undesirable things. Of course, that wasn’t the intention. Assuming that young is better is a deep cultural belief, one that is, unfortunately, absorbed by many people as they age, making them mourn their younger selves rather than enjoying the age they are.

I was already young at heart when I was young. Then I was middle-aged at heart and now, I think, I’m probably old at heart. And I’m here to tell you, all of you 40-somethings filled with dread about the future, it’s more interesting over here on the other side than you might think. Sure, there’s the reality of aging physical systems like hips and brains but also the extraordinarily interesting challenge of making an aging body work and work well. It’s a beautiful thing to walk five miles or swim lap after lap when you’re 65 because there’s all that rejoicing and gratitude that goes along with the exercise. Nothing can be taken for granted.

Lest anyone thinks this acceptance came easy, let me say that it has been a struggle. I, too, absorbed the cultural norms about aging, regarding wrinkles as flaws and physical infirmities as evidence of irrelevance. Until I had them. I know me and I know I’m not irrelevant. I am calmer, less competitive, more strategic, and, oddly, more competent in many areas than I was when I was at my supposed professional peak.

Rejection of the ageist cultural norm means that I can see old people as beautiful. I look at the faces of Robert Redford and Tommy Lee Jones and I think, my, they have aged so handsomely, the smoothness gone from their faces, every day in the sun or late night in a bar travelling in the crevices of their foreheads and cheeks, experience and richness to envy, every young man should be so lucky.

I used to think that I was a 19-year old trapped in a 60-something’s body, that my wrinkles and physical changes were old mothy clothes draped on my remembered lovely young self; that was my way of railing against the injustice of aging. Now I realize that aging isn’t an injustice as much as it is an undeserved reward. Not everyone gets here. We, all of us who looked battered and weathered, are more beautiful than we know.

So when you ask me what I will do to stay young at heart, I will tell you what I will do to be happy, where I want to travel, what work I want to do, and, last, how I want to be remembered. Those are questions everyone should contemplate, young, old and in-between.

Written in response to this prompt from The Daily Post: What are your thoughts on aging? How will you stay young at heart as you get older?


8 Comments on “You’re Asking the Wrong Question

  1. Our daughter in law is 63 and has level 4 pancreatic cancer. Jeffrey got his first round of cancer at 34. Not everyone lives long enough to get old. You are right. We are privileged to have lived long enough to have the grace of age.

  2. Lovely Jan. The things I know now in my head and heart are worth every wrinkle and ache and gray hair.

  3. I have dealt with this question a number of times in the last couple of years, and I love your answer and explanation. I too, have lost the desire to compete, to rush, to worry about many things that used to worry me, and to just embrace life where I am, enjoying this new pace of calm living

  4. These are the brightest of words, filled with truth. Its poignancy lies in your SELF – all young and not-as-young self. What a treasure of a writer you are! 💜

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