It is a common trait among Baby Boomers – my generation – to think our role in life is to break from the patterns of our parents. In our approach to politics, child-rearing and work, in our interactions with the world in general, we grew up believing we could find our own way, unbound by the conventions and restrictions of the past.
Now, in our 60s and 70s, we’re stunned to find ourselves dealing with the same realities that were faced by our parents and by their parents before them. No matter how much we fear and deny the aging process, it’s happening. To us.
The fear and denial are not helping. In fact, they’re preventing us from experiencing much of the meaning and enjoyment that can come with aging. Still, considering the cultural signals we’ve received all our lives, it’s no wonder the idea doesn’t excite us. Botox and plastic surgery are routine responses to the outward signs of normal aging. We’re regularly exposed to fashions that aren’t designed for older bodies and fitness advice that doesn’t reflect the limitations of our own muscles and joints. Ads for senior living facilities and caregiver services present older adults as problems or burdens. Old age is portrayed as a time of isolation and loneliness when we’ll no longer be useful or respected. Who would want to go there?
But it doesn’t have to be this way – especially if we own up to stage of life we’ve entered. The “Conscious Aging Alliance,” part of a movement spearheaded by leading gerontologists, philosophers, ethicists and spiritual leaders, teaches that aging is a life stage “full of potential for purpose, growth and service to community.”
“Conscious aging” advocates argue that when we cling to the notion of an endless middle age, we fail to plan for what comes next, possibility missing opportunities to build a richer, more meaningful old age. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author of From Age-ing to Sage-ing, writes that “an extended life span without extended awareness of a productive old age means we aren’t sure we are living longer. Maybe we are just dying longer.”
As the “elders” in our society, we need to recognize that we have wisdom to share with the next generations – and we also need to remain open to new experiences. If you’ve always wished you had time to take up a new hobby or volunteer, now may be your opportunity. Old age can be a time of profound meaning and enjoyment – and the first step is to acknowledge that we are, indeed, growing older.
CJFS periodically offers “Aging With Grace” support groups, which help older adults learn strategies for living meaningfully in old age. For more information, contact Gail Schuster, firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.879.3438.