Monday, July 12, 2010

The piece in Sunday’s New York Times, “Turn 70. Act Your Grandchild’s Age” caught my eye and got me thinking. A lot.

Here we are, a generation that grew up with rock and roll, watching our celebrity idols of Ringo Starr (OK, not so much of my idol) and Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney age with us and keep on rocking, wearing jeans as a symbol and uniform, staying forever young. Sort of. The point of the article is that with society highlighting these 70 year-old celebrity outliers of ageing, these unusual and enviable individuals who have been able to defy the aches, illnesses and appearances of superficial decline, there is accompanying societal ignorance of many of the difficulties as well as the inherent blessings of ageing.

Deep within the article was a quote with particular meaning for me from Dr. Anne Basting , the director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. “It wouldn’t do us a whole boatload of harm to reinstate some values to contemplation,” said Dr. Basting. “Part of the pressure on older people to be successful and give back and volunteer and be active and play tennis is that we are a culture of doing. We don’t really know how to be. That’s something that late life gives us, is time to be. But that’s stigmatized.”

Being instead of performing. Being instead of proving something. Putting a break on the culture of doing. Having the time just to be. The pressure that we put on ourselves – and our children – to do more, see more, document more, perform more is overwhelming and growing. That it is lasting into older age is sad, sad that we continue the same pressure which does not allow us to stop and be, stop and notice what is going on in our worlds.

As a self-described “do-er”, I know that as much as I love to quench my endless curiosity, I also often use doing/going/experiencing as a way to avoid feeling a particular loss or emptiness in my life. That this same behavior may be causing millions of senior citizens from enjoying a more contemplative time in their lives, that there may be a growing pressure to keep on pushing and doing is a downright shame, and should act as a warning to those of us who live by the credo that more is more. Doing and being. Acknowledging the aches and living as fully as possible. It’s not a matter of either or, but rather fifty/ fifty.

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