I read a very interesting article in the New York Times last week - Susan Jacoby's Real Life Among the Old Old. It confirmed a theory I have been developing lately - that no matter what I read about research into extending life, and 70 being the new 50, old age is what it is and I'd better get on with it. When I was only slightly younger I used to wish I'd live till 110. Most of my friends could tell you some story about me stating that, and being confident it would happen, through sheer will power alone. Now I hold a different, and dare I say it, a more well informed view.
Taken yesterday, this is how I look most days I'm at home. No makeup, hair pulled back because I need a haircut, and content with it all.
I have always wanted to live a long life, and never questioned that I would do it until recently. But now that I'm getting older - I am technically classified as "young old" - I feel I should play this era out as best I can, then bow out gracefully. Forget about the antioxidants, wrinkle creams and yearning for my recently gone strength and stamina. Take this on for what it is, be the best old Rhonda I can be, just like I tried for in my younger ages and accept that all of us only have a certain amount of time here.
Of course there are always the women's magazines that blather on about not looking your age, 50 is the new 30 and cougar women. Yuck! I am here to say what I've always thought - that women can be a wide range of things. They can be daring, bold, confident, timid, shy, over the top, boring, stimulating, interesting, dumb, intelligent, creative or any number of those mixed together, but if they are old, they cannot be young. Even when told they can be. We've had our turn, now it's time to move along. I know that people are living longer lives now, but at what cost? Like Susan Jacoby, I don't want to live into my 90s and be racked with pain, I don't want to have high blood pressure and be on the verge of a heart attack or stroke, I don't want to be demented when I'm 80 and locked up in an old people's home. When my quality of life goes, I want to go with it.
I wish we'd start developing ethical guidelines for euthanasia. I know that would never be an option for some folk, and I respect that decision, but there are many, like Hanno and I, who would like to choose a dignified death over pain and suffering. When my friend Bernadette was dying and in pain every day, she asked why she had to endure such suffering. I had no answer for her. We put down our pets but we don't offer the same kindness to our fellow human beings. I don't know why that is. Maybe one of the reasons is that we don't know what kind of old age we'll have until we experience it. I'm sure if we knew we'd be in pain or demented, we'd be lobbying our politicians for sensible, equitable and kind ways for doctors to end our suffering when we came to it.
Maybe that's all a bit premature for me. Right now I'm almost 63 and I'm fine and dandy. I don't take any medication and I'm healthy. I'm not as fit as I should be, but I'm working on that. I still go to bed every night looking forward to what the next day will bring, I still feel like I have something to offer, I still feel a great enthusiasm for life. But I am not going along with the crowd saying I want to be young again, I don't want to look young, I want to look like what I am and who I am. I like the way old people look - it comforts me. It's more important to me to be generous and kind rather than pretty and "lookin' good for my age". I want to inspire others to live an authentic life, to accept who they are and to live well and with grace. There are far more interesting things in the ordinary course of life than botox, hair dyes and stilettos. I want to refine my soul and develop my intelligence rather than worry about what I look like. How dare those magazines and other women say that is wrong - that I will be judged by looks and valued according to how young I look. And that brings up another significant point - women should support other women. I see so much criticism nowadays about what someone is wearing and who they're going out with. Seeking to criticise others for failing to meet your standards is dumb and mean. Make friends with other women, support them and their choices, and they'll (I hope) return that support.
I know I've ranted a bit in this post, but the topic is important and one we all face sooner or later. We seem to have lost respect for older people simply because they dared to get old. But that's the thing you see, we all age at the same rate and where I am now, you'll be one day. I'm going to live each day to its potential, be the age I am and proud that I've survived so long, even though I'm still only young old.