The fear of aging
It is a big mistake to assume that people of age have all the answers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Maybe wrinkles give us a look of authority. Perhaps it’s our attitude. Let’s face it; some of us strut around like infallible sages. But don’t let that fool you. Many of us are as insecure as teenagers with acne.
The other day a friend asked me, “Are you afraid of anything?” Flying immediately came to mind. He went on to say that I look so secure, so all together, that I carry on as if I was daring life to hit me with its worst.
Oh my goodness. I must be one good actress, worthy of an Oscar.
Like the rest of you, I also see shadows at high noon. I, too, get terrified by the specters that visit in the night, although some of them have been there so often they have become my good friends.
What is our worst fear? In the words of Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute: “We become aware that we’re on the downside of the mountain, coasting toward our final days. The wrinkles and the double chins are smoke screens for what we’re really afraid of—mortality.”
I listened in on a conversation among senior citizens about the fears they face. Eighty-five percent of them immediately said “getting sick.” Alzheimer’s Disease was on top of their list, followed by cancer. They dread loneliness, being left all alone, having restricted mobility, becoming a burden to family.
It is a documented fact, and also a crying shame, that so much of our time is spent wondering how life will end. Why do we ruin our remaining days with fear and anxiety? Why worry about the inevitable?
Women (and men) spend hours looking for ways to hide, erase or cover up the ravages of age. But no creams or potions, no needle, scalpel or knife can reverse time. I look at myself in the mirror in the morning and ask if all these spots, wrinkles, lines and furrows are actually caused by mites that live in my pillow and attack me in the middle of the night. And there must be another secret place in my bed where aches and pains reside.
There was a time (very long ago) when I used to jump out of bed to face the day. My mornings now begin with a slow and tentative roll to one side, a careful lean on one elbow, a groan, a moan or two, and finally, I’m up.
Once on my feet, the first two or three steps try to tell me I should have stayed in bed. But it gets better. Like a poorly oiled, overused old model engine, I start with a spurt and a sputter; slowly I warm up and at last I manage to purr. Watch me folks, I’m cruisin’!
Many women of age are afraid to be alone. It is this all-consuming dread that prompts some to seek the company of whoever, whenever. Sadly, the presence of a spouse/partner does not necessarily keep away loneliness. It took me many years to learn that alone does not mean being lonely; that solitude is truly a gift.
Some believe that having many children is the answer: “When I grow old, they will take care of me.” For some of us, this is wonderfully true. And yet, many people with children spend their twilight years alone. I know too many older parents who, if they get lucky, may get a phone call (today it would be a text) once or twice a week.
What to do? We can’t fight this inexorable slip down the mountain. But surely we can make our life count.
We must establish meaningful bonds and extend ourselves as broadly and widely as we possibly can. Being connected only to family can make you vulnerable to a life all alone. Seek others. Live aware, in tune, and conscious that what surrounds us is there for a purpose, that we are here for a reason. We must reach out and connect with something beyond and bigger than ourselves.
Passing of seasons
What we look like and what we own have nothing to do with what gives us value. So what if there’s a double chin? Who cares if the wrinkles crisscross your once flawless face?
Growing old has often been compared to the passing of the seasons. Spring brings the joy of a new birth, of renewals and fresh beginnings. Summer celebrates the blossoming of youth and its fanciful adventures. Fall, my favorite season, brandishes her fiery colors against the setting sun, turning leaves from red to gold, daring winter to lay bare the trees and spread its cloak of white on the hard barren earth. I guess what we all wish for is an endless autumn.
In the meantime, “while it is still today,” let us enjoy the hope-filled daybreaks and revel in the blazing sunsets of our life. Nothing and no one can deter or hurry winter. Our seasons are in the hands of He Who made it all.
Maya Angelou, acclaimed poet and author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” has this to say about the fears of age:
“Becoming a bag lady. Getting Alzheimer’s. Ending up alone. All of these concerns speak to a fear not of aging but of living. What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do out of timidity and spinelessness.
“The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself—for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good. I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.
“For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
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