Against Anti-Aging: A Call to Embrace the Pro-Aging Spirit

Article excerpt

Anti-aging. Whenever I see that term in an advertisement I can't help but think of it as a kind of immediate death sentence. I, for one, am happy to be aging. I'm sick of hearing that we don't want to age.

I may not have the same body, flexibility or energy that I did in my 2os, 305 or even 405, but I would never want to return to those times of my life. I feel better about myself than I ever did before, despite my increasing age, wrinkles and body changes. I am more confident, more self-assured and more content with myself than ever. I don't intend this article to be a self-congratulatory essay about my personal development. My point is, I think it's time for the boomer generation to recognize that there's enough ageism as it is without surrounding ourselves with so many products claiming to be the latest so-called antiaging elixir.

DEFYlNG THE STEREOTYPE

Instead of fighting the inevitability of aging, I vote for embracing a pro-aging campaign. Let's learn to age with grace, grow lovely growing old, and age into a sage later life. Let's take on the future with the same kind of enthusiasm with which so many faced the real world after college. Those of us in the field of aging, in particular, know full well that the stereotype of later life-as an inevitable downhill run-is false. But I think we have a special responsibility to embrace that knowledge and let others know there's a better reality.

I have been working with elders for more than 30 years. In 1974,1 fell in love with a group of older adults when I helped open a senior center in the Rockaways, N. Y. I got the job because I was so dumb, at the know-it-all age of 23, that I knew nothing of the negative stereotypes about aging. The senior center was inundated with participants and I was the only programmatic staff person in the organization, so I had the elders run their own programs. We had people in their 8os and 905 teaching one another painting, woodworking, needlework, dancing and languages. These were no elementary pursuits-they were taught by real artists and experts. There were lively sessions on current events, parties and more life in the confines of that old building than I could have imagined until then.

I have been working with older adults, people with disabilities and their families ever since then. I must confess that most of what I now claim to know in life was taught to me by my clients and other older people whom I cherish. Even those I didn't always like taught me a lot about the aging process, the spirit of the soul and the ability to endure even the most horrific of life's circumstances.

HAVING A 1FORGETTERY'

As I age, I also continue to be astounded by the strength and determination of people who are seemingly frail of body or mind. People are so easily deceived by the outward changes that time makes upon our physical being that they tend to overlook the inner life of elders. By choosing to spend a few minutes carefully listening to elders' messages, if not their exact words, people can learn that having a good "forgettery" -as a former client of mine would state-can help us slough off the old wounds that smart with anger and bitterness.

We can learn to allow tears to flow when we suffer grief and embrace the difficult along with the good as part of the experience of our lives. Furthermore, American culture needs to embrace the fact that sexuality, as well as the capacity to laugh and dance, can continue into older age and act as a salve for the pains of a lifetime. People can also leam that expressing appreciation and gratitude helps us hold fast to hope even when we are experiencing the most trying situations. …