I’ve been thinking about age lately. My birthday is this week and it seems like over the last few days, I’ve come across many articles and books about what it means to get older.
I was sorting through stacks of review books in my cubicle—stuff that piled up in the busy weeks before the triennial gathering. Among those books, I found How Did I Get to Be 70 When I’m 35 Inside? by Linda Douty. Its subtitle is “Spiritual Surprises of Later Life.” I glanced through the chapters: “Buried Dreams,” “Listening to the Body’s Wisdom,” “Changing Your Script,” “Honoring Memories,” and more. I thought to myself, I’d better hold on to this one; it may be a good book to excerpt in the magazine. But really, I just want to read it for myself.
Then I came across an article on Salon.com by Lillian Rubin. Rubin is an author and social scientist who was, until recently, a practicing psychotherapist. She was writing about what she experienced while writing her latest book, 60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in America. Rubin is in her 80s and she recently experienced age discrimination herself. She writes that “we live in a society that worships youth, that pitches it, packages it, and sells it so relentlessly that the anti-aging industry is the hottest growth ticket in town…” And she lists the components of that industry: plastic surgeons, billion-dollar cosmetics companies, foods that supposedly offer anti-aging properties, the stuff of the late-night infomercials. All in the hope that something will stave off the effects of time and life lived.
The wisest book I’ve read about aging is by Sister Joan Chittister: The Gift of the Years, Growing Older Gracefully. Chittister’s book gently asks readers to look at challenges and blessings of growing older. She writes about limitations, nostalgia, letting go and appreciation. She writes, “It the shaping of the soul that occupies us now … we set out to find out for ourselves who we really are, what we know, what we care about and how to be simply enough for ourselves in the world.”
I am heartened by Sister Joan’s wisdom and deep faith. I want to be wise and funny and gracious like her. Or like our former columnist, Marj Leegard. A friend once asked her, “How you get to be one of those ‘really cool old ladies?’” Her answer was, “You start now—before you’re old.”
So, how do you feel about getting older? Have you experienced age discrimination? Do you dread your birthday? Or do you celebrate it?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather.