Unpacking and settling into a new home is an excellent time for contemplation. The work is relatively mindless and the physical activity keeps blood flowing to the brain.
One of the topics taking up space in there has been fear of aging. It is bred into us from cradle and is responsible for ageism and and age discrimination in all their forms, for people lying about their age, for 30-year-olds believing they are over the hill and for the billions of dollars wasted on Botox and cosmetic surgery.
It doesn't matter how many ways you try to deny your age or how much money you spend on nips and tucks and potions and creams, you will get old and if you live long enough, you will look your age.
All that denial is not really about getting old; it's about being reminded that we will die. A healthy fear of death is good; it keeps us from doing stupid things that might kill us before our time. But we – western culture – have gone way too far in pretending that death doesn't exist, depriving ourselves of the conscious experience of getting old.
Because of keeping this blog, I probably spend more time than many people thinking about what getting old is really like. We have often discussed here how we are happy to leave behind the concern for our appearance that took up so much time and effort in our youth. We like the patience and tolerance we have gained, the diminished need to always be right and I especially appreciate my new-found ability to let it go, when I've been thwarted in a goal, without the drama I created about it when I was young and even middle-aged.
More genuinely than in my youth, I can be pleased for others' accomplishments even when they impinge on my beliefs about my talents and capabilities. I’ve stopped comparing myself to others, and I am much more interested in the external world than myself.
As I think I've mentioned before, nowadays I eat ice cream, only ice cream, for dinner when I feel like it without a twinge of guilt; I haven't owned a belt in at least ten years.
All of these changes have happened without effort. They came along little by little on their own and I noticed most of them only in retrospect, after they had become part of my being.
A more recent change that interests me is how I have slowed down physically. Unless I'm fooling myself, it's not that I can't move as quickly as I did last month or last year, it's that I don't see the point of rushing. I have no job to get to, no deadlines to meet, no one who will find fault if I don't finish (whatever) today.
It feels like a burden lifted from my shoulders and even better, without the self-imposed pressure to finish in some arbitrary period, it gives me a lot more time to pay attention to what's going on around me and in my mind.
What I feel is missing are more voices about these kinds of changes in behavior and attitude that happen as we get older. Childhood, adolescence and midlife have been sliced and diced into the most minute of pieces by psychologists and psychiatrists, but there has been little interest in studying the developmental changes in old people.
Most of what exists in this area is about loneliness, fear and illness. But it is usually written by people who are not old and who are filled, still, with the fear of becoming so which, I believe, negatively colors their observations and conclusions.
I'm not dismissing the sobering sides of aging; I'm suggesting they are not as fearful (including death) as the mainstream culture of not-yet-old people believes.