Recently I was having a conversation with a group of people who ranged between the ages of 50-65 (I’m 39 for the record). Two people had recently experienced some health issues and one person’s spouse had also had a major health crisis. It was serious stuff, and I’m not knocking that. That’s when one person concluded, “Getting old is hard,” and another responded, “Yep. Getting old isn’t for sissies.”
Then they turned to me and informed me that they were my future meaning I should expect to have a litinay of health problems in the next 10-15 years. Getting old, they said, was full of horrible, terrible things. Getting old was not fun. Getting old meant you couldn’t do stuff you like anymore because your health limits you.
“Well,” I said, “that’s not my version of what my life is going to be like when I get old.”
Of course people laughed because what did I know? It’s so easy to say that will never happen to me. Surely they are wiser. Surely the fact that it is easy to acquire large amounts of evidence that shows getting old is filled with very bad things should show me that I’m wrong.
I’m not saying I’m never going to have a health problem or that getting old is going to be easy. I’m saying that I’m not willing to accept that getting old has to be about health problems and limitations. I’m taking care of myself now because I want to, and I believe it will allow me to enter old age with a much different set of experiences than what the people I encounter seem to be having. Old age doesn’t need to be something that happens to us. We can have a fair amount of say in how we enter into it.
I think we’ve gotten into a frame of mind where we’ve created old age to be this place that no one wants to go to. Not just because it means you’re that much closer to dying, but because we have assumed or accepted it means taking medications, seeing lots of doctors, and being in poor physical health. What would happen if we didn’t accept that vision and worked towards a different one?
All I know is I practice yoga, go to acupuncture once a month, and have been a vegetarian for seven months. Those three things in and of themselves have changed my life dramatically. If I continue them, I imagine they will effect how I enter old age. Each of them is a challenge in their own right – just like getting old can be. However, they are challenges with big payoffs. Each time I hear about someone having to take more medications, see more doctors, or not have much energy it inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing. We can rewrite what it means to be old. We can show that it doesn’t have to be about very bad things.