Sometimes it is a sad reminder of what was and won’t ever again be!
I’m walking along the new River Walk with Arlene on a sunny late afternoon, passing by the bars and eateries that have become the city’s newest Happy Hour hot spots. I’m digging the energy, hundreds of young men and women throwing out the bait for the dinner catch. Out of nowhere I make a deep dive into my medial temporal lobe and cue up the lyrics to Fats Waller’s “The Joint is Jumpin’” (Come in cats, and check your hats, I mean this joint is jumpin’), a long term memory stuck in the hippocampus before Arlene was born.
I’m feeling it, swing time, C’mon Arlie, let’s join the crowd and have a couple of drinks, maybe rent a kayak and surf the wake of a Wendella tour boat. Arlene looks at me as if I’m nuts. Of course I’m kidding, I’d sooner sit in an endodontist’s chair than a four top at one of those bars with an ear bleeding decibel count and a menu of deep fried everything.
But it was a thought. However brief, it was a pondered, deliberated notion from a fluttering brain wave that neglected to process the fact that I would be throwing down tequila shots with a Twitter era group of Millennials the same age as my grandkids… and throwing up in the Uber that had the bad luck to answer the mobile.
Sometimes it is a reminder that if you want to stay young, hang out with old people for a while and listen to the daily ‘organ recital’ that travels around the group like an uncontrollable yawn.
Attention Medicare card holders: I do not want to hear about your swollen prostates, the Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma on the side of your nose, your recent cataract surgery or your latest bout with incontinence and constipation. And note, I am not a stranger to the kvetch circle. There are days when three Ibuprofens barely make a dent and the bed calls like a Venus Flytrap to a slow moving arachnid.
I know the comfort that comes when we stay put in the bubbles we’re familiar with, and conversely, the discomfort when traveling to new territories. But the former leads to shrinking interests and tightening circles while the latter to who knows where! Curiosity about the unfamiliar can literally improve our mental acuity and lead to becoming more actively engaged socially, helping to resist loneliness and isolation.
As a Rest of Your Life Coach dealing with clients’ issues about feeling irrelevant, I often ask “When was the first time you felt old?” which puts the emphasis on discomfort with their surroundings. Now I add a second, perhaps more pertinent question, “When was the first time you didn’t make the effort to stay young?”
Sometimes it is a reminder to resist a lifetime of self-fulfilling, negative stereotypes about aging.
There is no expiration date on ‘Being Interesting.’ Or as I’ve heard it said, the sexpiration date, indicating the age after which one is no longer appealing.
What makes us seniors interesting and lively is not the ability to hoof it around the dance floor but resisting the sinking feeling that we are sofa cushions beyond fluffing.
I don’t buy-in one hundred percent to the saying, “it’s not how old you are it’s how old you feel,” but a slew of studies indicates simply feeling younger has been linked to increased vitality and productivity. Maybe a better affirmation is “attitude of gratitude,” simply being happy to be alive and open to the little jolts of energy that remind us of our continuing connection to the world at large, be it gabbing with a neighbor in the condo’s laundry room or flat on the mat at the yoga studio’s gong bath.
Growing old is a team sport; we share the aches and pains and the palliative, the ability to laugh at ourselves. But to avoid languishing on the sidelines it’s important to hang out with contemporaries who are still playing in the game of life rather than sitting around waiting for the whistle to blow. It’s more difficult when you’re not a natural extrovert, but it is essential to put yourself out there, wherever ‘out there’ may be.
It’s more complicated for today’s seniors because the boundaries of age as a marker of life stage are less valid. If we strive to act and look like a photoshopped selfie, we’re selling out to the cultural dictate that younger is better. If we throw in the towel and spend our days watching reruns of “All in the family” we are giving in to the old man/old lady stereotypes (and giving up on life). But it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
We’re past the tsk tsk disapprovals that monitored what we should be doing and how we should be feeling. What works for me is accepting the age I am and concentrating on what is positive about it. I try not to refer to the past as ‘proof,’ but as ‘perspective, appreciating what I have learned in my life that has made me who I am today.