Do you suffer from gerontophobia, which is the fear of old people, old age, and growing old? Judging by the number of books dealing with life after 50, or even 40, it appears that many people have difficulty dealing with aging. Since I’m 65, I have the right to ask, “What’s all the fuss about?”
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is how we interpret the meaning of ‘OLD.’ In the minds of many, the word means decrepit, in shambles, falling apart, broken down, or worn out. If that’s what we think, it’s hardly surprising that we grow anxious at the thought of growing old. But when we look at AGE-ING as SAGE-ING, life takes on a whole new twist. So, you see, we’re not growing old; we’re growing wise. That’s why Winston Churchill (1874 ~ 1965), said, “The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage.”
When we were young twits, not knowing any better, we were wise guys, but as we grow in years, gain experience, and learn from our mistakes, we become wise men and women. That’s not something to be fearful of, but something to look forward to. We’re not growing old; we’re unfolding, blossoming, and developing our potential. When we realize this, we will find that aging is not enraging, but engaging. Attitude is everything, for as George Burns (1896 ~ 1996) said, “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.”
Ironically, fear of old age ages one and fear of death hastens death, so they’re good reasons for changing our attitude. Since we have limited resources, shouldn’t we be using them wisely? Our most precious resource is time, which is synonymous with life. If I spend time complaining about growing old, isn’t that a misallocation of my limited resources? Isn’t time spent unhappily, time misspent? The secret of life is not about enjoying the present moment, but about enjoying EVERY moment. This is not an exaggeration, for even on the way to the funeral of one’s spouse, there is time to enjoy the fragrance of flowers, time to rejoice in the memories of the many happy moments spent together, and time to welcome the consolation of friends.
But isn’t it true that as we age our body deteriorates? So? Look, there are advantages and disadvantages in all stages of life. True, young people can outrun me, but I can outthink them. It’s just a matter of substituting one advantage for another. Why would I want to moan about the disadvantages when I could be enjoying the advantages? However, if you are concerned about your body crumbling in the future, do something about it today. Join a fitness club or exercise. That will stop your complaining, make you feel good, and greatly enhance your future wellbeing. So, stop griping about middle age; after all, you’ll grow out of it!
In some, the onset of old age kindles the fear of death. But the temporal nature of life is what makes it precious and enjoyable. We love summer, fall, winter, and spring because they will end. I look forward to tonight’s Christmas banquet because it comes but once a year. Life is a banquet that comes once in a lifetime. We are all attending that banquet. What will we do about it? Enjoy it? Or bemoan the fact that it will end? We can never enjoy all there is in one lifetime, so why miss out on more by wasting time being fearful?
Some complain they no longer feel young. Why aren't they trying to feel life instead of feel young? Rather than striving to FEEL young, why don't they choose to BECOME young by embracing the exuberance, curiosity, and courage of children? Instead of aging, why don’t they start living? There are many other points worthy of our consideration and some of them follow.
1. Lifestyle is more important than genetics. For example, my dad had several heart attacks, the first of which was in his 50’s. The fact that I gave up smoking at a much earlier age than my father probably explains why I remain in good health. So, don’t worry about your genes as much as you do about the size of your jeans. Remain fit and enjoy life.
2. A University of Michigan study suggests that friends are more important than wealth and health. Of what value is health and wealth if you are lonely? On the other hand, even if you’re impoverished and in poor health, life can remain enjoyable if you have friends to look forward to meeting. This is another reason for fostering a positive attitude. For a cheery disposition attracts friends, while a gloomy outlook alienates them. Old age may be the declining years, but don't use them to decline friendship, fun, and festivity.
3. Hardening of the heart ages people more quickly than hardening of the arteries. When you fill your heart with love and kindness, you fill you heart with the elixir of life. Life may be short, but it's long enough to lighten the burdens of others and bring smiles to their faces.
4. Are you searching for a Fountain of Youth? One is to be found. Sophia Loren explains, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap into this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
5. When we stretch our minds, we grow flexible, not feeble. The maxim “Use it or lose it” may be trite, but it is a truism. Research has shown that a life of endless learning lessens the likelihood of getting Alzheimer's disease. Don’t let your brain get rusty; keep it well oiled by using it daily. Follow a regimen of constant learning, not to avoid Alzheimers, but to experience the joy and youthfulness that comes from continual discovery. We do not stop learning because we grow old; we grow old because we stop learning. If all you can put your teeth into is a glass, you're old!
6. Mirth and laughter are the shock absorbers that protect us from the bumps in the road of life. Share laughter and adopt a humorous perspective. Anything can be turned into a joke. Here are some examples. a) It's not my four grandchildren that make me feel old, but the fact that I'm married to a grandmother! b) Searching for the purpose of life? I discovered it a long time ago; it’s to avoid death! c) I even discovered how to avoid dying. Don’ t stop breathing! d) I attribute my old age to having lived a long time. e) "The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age" (Lucille Ball, 1911 ~ 1989).
7. A paradox of old age is although we have less time to live, we have more time to spend. Freed from the time consumed by a full-time job, we now have time to spend with friends and family, hobbies, personal and spiritual growth, and volunteering. This stage of life can definitely become the most rewarding one.
8. If you’re still not convinced that maturing is a positive experience, consider the many that were denied the privilege of growing old. Count your blessings and make life what you want it to be.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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