Tuesday, July 15, 2014

age wasted on the elderly?

Because I have been off my feed, the following is a newspaper column I won't pass in (too much of a mess and no energy to correct) for publication tomorrow, my 'regular' day:

Youth is wasted on the young.

The Irish playwright and wag George Bernard Shaw once quipped, "Youth is wasted on the young."

A similar barely-concealed resentment was woven into a recent email I received from Janet Asimov, widow of the prolific American writer Isaac Asimov.  I had sent Janet a couple of suggestions about movies I thought she might enjoy watching.

She responded promptly. "mostly, I read, which is also difficult because my vision is certainly not what it used to be. I don't think you are in your eighties yet. Be warned -- they are not fun."

As if to bolster Janet's and Shaw's tart and somewhat snarky appreciation of old age, there are the one-two-three-four... stories per week in the Gazette about antidotes for encroaching age -- a tai chi class here, a little gardening there, some golf, a yoga class, travel, time with the grandkids, a lecture, a stint as a volunteer, another appreciation of approaching death; a diet that includes chocolate and a hundred other ways to remain active and connected and relevant and fun and ... young. Energtic trianers with hand-stitched shoes and an insistence on using the word "we," assert at every turn: youth is good,  healthy, improving and, in the end, fun-er.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with any of these activities. But the quiet question that remains unanswered is, if old youth is wasted on the young, is old age wasted on the elderly?

Maybe it's a little like the pregnant woman.

For all the wonder and delight and perceived blessing of her situation, a pregnant woman may be forgiven from time to time for feeling cranky as hell about this caboose at the front of her freight train. What she wouldn't give to roll over in bed at night! And in the same breath, perhaps an elderly person can be forgiven for feeling something similar: There's no escape but that doesn't mean the longing to escape doesn't come calling. As Janet observed, not everything is "fun."

And it was in this vein that I revisited Mr. Shaw and his resentful wit: If youth is wasted on the young, is it possible that old age is likewise wasted on the elderly? I guess I think it is.

Old age slows things down. Mentally and physically, things grow less do-able even as the recollection remains of a time when doing and improving and fun were all the rage. And the recognition can lead to a case of the blues that no peppy thirty-somethings can squelch with their newspaper good news. 

There is no escape, but what might happen if, instead of trying to escape, the energies were put elsewhere?

The American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed, "It is not what's wrong with the world that really scares people. What really scares them is that everything is all right."

Those who are religiously-inclined may hear such an observation and bunker down in their belief system: "God's in heaven and all's right with the world." Those who are psychologically-inclined may see in King's words a recipe for a passivity and lifelessness.

But setting aside the facile critiques, I think this is the realm in which advanced age may find an opportunity. What would things be like if anyone stopped insisting on improvements and fun? What would it be like to stop imagining that "change" was something to effect [cq] and instead was something that simply happened? Isn't this the way things actually happen anyway? Isn't it time to get with the program?

It is easy to write about a change of perspective, but less easy to make real. Suddenly, the activities that anyone chooses are simply activities that they choose. Some are fun. Some are not. Things change and insisting that they change according to a schedule or social agreement is extra. Working to improve things is fine: Expecting they will be improved is unnecessary. Fun is lovely, but an insistence on fun is for ... the young.

In advancing years, the energy may be less, but the capacity for wisdom is increased. Marginalized by energy does not mean marginalized by reality. No point in wasting old age on the elderly.

Or, put another way, just because you are indispensable to the universe does not mean the universe needs your help. 

It takes more discipline to have what you've got than to wish for what you have not got.


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