Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aging Gracefully

My maternal grandparents lived upstairs of us when I was growing up. My memory of those years is that they were pretty much zapped of energy by the time they retired. In their 60s they had failing health and did not do much. They would go for a short walk, sit in the rocking chair, watch TV, pray a rosary, read the newspaper, go to church, occasionally visit with friends. Grandma always could cook. Sometimes we would play card games.

They grew up in a different world. They worked hard on farms with a dozen siblings. Later in life, they moved to town and had all kinds of very physical jobs. Grandpa was an iceman. He used to tote huge blocks of ice up flights of stair for people to keep their iceboxes cold. For those of you reading this who are a little younger, the first refrigerators were really more like an upright version of the coolers we take on picnics. Later on, he was also a bartender, a cop and a foreman in a factory. No doubt there are some other things I do not know.

I remember them as old. They were tired after a life of hard work.

Now I look at stories about older people and see how vibrantly alive they are. They enjoy all kinds of activities from bicycling to hiking to working out, yoga, tai chi, gardening, swimming, dancing and active sex lives. My mother is now 82 and she does yoga and water aerobics, goes for long walks, all sorts of things. She has lived a lot longer than her parents did already.

There are rock musicians in their 60s who are still touring. The Rolling Stones were touring when I was in high school. Look at some of the actors and actresses who are still making good movies who were making good movies when we were in high school or college.

Aging no longer looks to me like being old and just not doing much until your health finally breaks down. Middle age now spans a greater period of time and people can look good and stay active for quite a long time. These stages of life look different now that we are in them. We have a longer way to go than our grandparents did. The question is, what do we want to do with that time?

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