Okay, I know we often talk here about our experiences as “women of a certain age.” So what I’m about to say may come as a shock. Prepare yourself, and have your bottle of smelling salts at the ready, just in case.
You and I are old enough to have given birth to, raised, and launched 5 children between us.
We’ve kissed our reproductive lives, as well as menopause, a fond good-bye. Our skin is a bit looser these days, our hair a bit greyer. We suffer fools even less gladly than we did in our younger years (which wasn’t gladly at all, thanks for asking).
We remember long-ago things like Woodstock and The Archies and Expo67 and the day Janis Joplin died.
We remember telephones with dials! And milk in glass bottles! Typewriters that weren’t electric!
We grow old, we grow old.
And to all this, I say, “So bloody what?”
As Groucho Marx observed, “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”
And if Groucho weren’t currently pushing up daisies, I’d seek him out and shake his hand. Because he’s absolutely right: aging is one of the least interesting subjects I can think of. I’ve begun to realize that talking about my age is having only one effect on me: it makes me feel old. Old and tired and boring.
Yes, we’re in our 50s. Big deal. We’re not the first women to have arrived at this age, and I doubt we’ll be the last. So why do we insist on endlessly dissecting our lives, fretting about the changes in the mirror, worrying over our bodies’ shift out of youth, wondering whether we’re achieving the sacred goal of “aging gracefully”? (Which, I notice, is rarely a goal men think about. Just saying.)
I abhor this kind of narcissism in others, and I certainly won’t tolerate it in myself. We’re aging, we’ll continue to age, and then we’ll die. This is generally how life works, or so I’ve been told.
So what’s the alternative to moaning on and on about our age?
Well, if we’re looking for role models, we don’t need to look further than our own family.
Take our Aunt Hope: she was a warm, caring, blunt, graceful, opinionated, engaging, beautiful woman for her entire life. She rarely mentioned getting old, but talked a lot about her interests: travel, family, natural history, friends she’d seen, current affairs. You know, life.
In her 80s, as her health began to fail and blindness overtook her, she wrote to me about the unexpected snowfall they’d received in Powell River, B.C.—part of Canada where snow is a rarity. “I didn’t make it outside in time to make a snow angel,” she said, complaining that it had melted too quickly for her liking.
Or Nana, whom we’ve both written about here: she was crippled with arthritis, she was deaf in one ear and losing hearing in the other, and she couldn’t have given two figs. Or even one. She was much more interested in travelling—across Canada to visit us, across the Pacific Ocean to visit Hong Kong.
Nana thought nothing of making up a huge basket of sandwiches to take to a love-in, so we could feed the hippies in Beacon Hill Park. In her 80s, she befriended a group of young men in her apartment building, and would often accompany them to the beach along Dallas Road for singalongs and (completely illegal) campfires.
When I asked her how she’d managed the steep climb down to the beach, she pursed her lips and waved the question aside: “Think nothing of it,” she said. “They had to carry me part way, but it was worth it.”
Of course it was. Because the important part of that adventure wasn’t her age, or her arthritic feet and knees. It was the fun of joining her buddies around the bonfire, where I have no doubt they treated her like a queen.
The moral? Old people can be completely fascinating, but it has nothing to do with their age. I know some older people who are still having adventures in their 80s and 90s; and I know some younger people who wouldn’t recognize an adventure if it chomped them firmly in their nether regions.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about our life experiences, or any of the things that made us who we are today. But I don’t want to dwell on any aches, pains, wrinkles, cellulite, grey hair, or hemorrhoids I might accumulate along the way. (Particularly the latter.)
None of that interests me.
What does interest me is what lies around the next corner; what interesting people I might meet again, or for the first time; what my family and friends are doing; where we’re going, what we’ll do when we get there, and what we can learn along the way.
I want to talk about the glory of waking up in a tent to watch the sun rise over a rocky ridge, or the comfort of holding a cat or two in my lap while I knit and chat with a dear friend while snow swirls around outside.
I want to talk about the sadness I’ll feel when our house empties and Rachel goes back to Toronto for the semester, and about the warmth of getting together for dinner with Adrian, and about the excitement of my next road trip with Mitchell.
I want to talk about walking around London with you and that damned beaver, giggling like lunatics as we paced in front of Marx’s tomb waiting for a chance to pose Bucky among the flowers and snap his picture.
I want to embark on adventures, not waste my time (or our readers’ time) on an organ recital about my inevitable progress through middle and old age.
Who’s with me?