My grandmother turned 80 this month and she is a treasure trove of all sorts of wonderful information from child rearing advice to cooking tips. She is my encourager through the tight times and the tough times, the bridge to my heritage and one of my very best girl friends. I eagerly look forward to my daughters and my biweekly visits at G G's (short for Great Grandma so my grandma isn't confused with my daughter's grandma-my mother).
My grandma works in her yard every day for hours, she reads two and three best selling books a week, experiments with the latest recipes in each magazine, and God help the robber that makes the mistake of trying to steal anything from her house because Grandma is going to TAKE YOU OUT! When I asked my grandma how it feels to have lived 80 years she said, "It feels like another day to eat cake!" I had to laugh out loud-Jenna loves cake too, just like her GG.
In September I had a little life milestone of my own when I turned 30. Like my grandmother's 80th birthday, my thirtieth felt like just another day. I didn't really think twice about it until my father in law showed me a pretty picture of my brother in law's 20 year old girlfriend and said, "Remember when you were young and beautiful?" I nearly fell off my chair and spilled my cup of tea. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Remember when I was young in beautiful, as in I'm NOT anymore? From his tone it appeared my value had decreased in his eyes because my age had increased. This incident left me feeling just a touch indignant.
As I paged through magazines in the waiting room at my daughter's doctor check up a couple weeks later, I became increasingly aware of the multiple adds featuring anti-aging creams, plastic surgery, and other ways to "turn back the clock." I thought of people I know, so desperate to look younger that they photo shop themselves to the point that they almost look younger than their children in family photos. Others who don't want to be called Grandma and Grandpa because it sounds "too old". I had to wonder why our society is so focused on staying young anyway?
Our culture has a warped value system based on youth and beauty. It has done a great disservice in stereotyping old people as chronically ill, unable to work, behind the times, slow-thinking, useless financial burdens on society. But the truth is that Americans over the age of fifty own 75 percent of all American assets and spend half the money. A full 70 percent of these people own their own homes. (Yes I researched this-I may be a nerd but I'm an informed one!) They vote and are active in the community to a greater extent than young people. You can find them out there doing sports and outdoor activities, or working out at the gym. In reality a lot of how we live the later part of our lives depends on our attitude and lifestyle. People who think that aging brings infirmity and illness may unconsciously let that happen where others with positive views of aging may take better care of themselves thus remaining active, vital, and healthy members of society .
In stead of trying to look young our society should be focusing on keeping healthy in both mind and body. We must never cease in improving what we know, learning new skills, eating right, exercising, and continuing to explore the world around us. We are never too old to learn something new and experience the joys life has to offer. Each stage and each age of our life is beautiful in it's own way and has it's own purpose: a stage of discovery and growing, a time for bearing and raising children, and perhaps the most important is our last season for teaching what we have learned along the way. Our elderly are the unclaimed treasures of this world. We NEED the wisdom of older people and our aging population needs to realize that they have that wisdom to share.
I came across a story by Dr. Annemarie Colbin on a website http://www.foodandhealing.com/articles/article-whatswrongaging.htm that really helped to sum things up for me. (This is my paraphrased version )
One day a woman was walking through the woods and came across an old gnarled tree. It's branches were wide with plenty of room for birds to play and build their nests. It gave shade to cool weary travelers from the summer heat, protection from the wind, and provided life-giving oxygen to the air. The tree was useful but old. It's branches were twisted, its bark full of nicks and wrinkles. Then the woman noticed some young and beautiful trees growing nearby. Their bark was smooth and pretty but they weren't good for much right now...not enough room yet in their branches for the birds, and they barely made any shade. It was then that the woman realized what truly counts is what you are doing for others not what you look like.
This is so true. I've got some smile lines developing around my eyes and a small patch of gray hairs peaking out of my bangs but as far as I'm concerned these are just signs that I've been growing some life experience. In no way do I wish to be 20 again. It took many plateaus and an even larger number of valleys to make me the person I am today. Even still I have so much more to learn. I certainly have a lot of life to live and knowledge to give before I've fulfilled my purpose on this Earth. I look forward to that enthusiastically. After-all the alternative to getting old is an early death. I think I'll take growing old and growing useful instead.
Some of the most beautiful women I've ever seen were 70s+ years old, silver haired, wrinkles and all. Their eyes still shone like those of a 20 year old and behind them were the memories of a lifetime and the wealth of wisdom that only life's experiences can bring.