I am often asked what my secret is -- at the age of 92 I am writing my fourth novel and fifth book (up at 5 am). Post Hill Press will soon publish a series of three novels I wrote in my 80s. The first of the trilogy, The Hat, won first prize in historical fiction from the Texas Authors Association and has been optioned for a movie.
The answer lies in the overwhelming preponderance of youth in television shows, movies, on magazine covers and advertisements for everything from toilet paper to glorious vacations -- not to mention the billion-dollar surgical and cosmetic industry. Society's message is loud and clear: youth has value but life is basically over in old age. It teaches us to fear aging and permeates the very air we breathe.
It is a lie.
Ask anyone if they'd like to go back to their youth and most will emphatically say no -- some will actually shudder. And no wonder. It's a time of career worries, relationship worries, money worries, kid worries. A time with no idea of who we are or even what we want in life. And without preparation from our culture for the challenges of marriage and child-raising, we are out there on our own, winging it, doing our best.
Age has given us the freedom from those hectic years and a second chance at life. We now have the wisdom and time to discover who we are. There may be a long deferred dream to pursue. Time for a hobby. Writing a memoir of an interesting life (yours) for grandchildren and family. Painting lessons. Gardening. Volunteering. The list goes on.
According to the New York Times, by 2030 the number of Americans 65 and older will grow to 72 million up from 40.2 million just five years ago. Still, colleges and universities have paid little attention to this thriving demographic. At the age of 89 Doris Hadddock began walking the 3,200 miles between Los Angeles and Washington DC, which took her 14 months. Kimani Maruge enrolled in the first grade at 84. Grandma Moses began painting at 75 and lived to 100, still painting. At 93, Tao Porchon and her 23-year-old dance partner are sweeping ballroom-dancing competitions in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. A Japanese woman, Mieko Nagaoka, took up swimming at the age of 80 and at 100 became the world's first centenarian to complete a 1,500-meter freestyle swim. At 103, Hidekichi Miyazaki holds the world record for the 100-meter dash in the 100-to-104 age category in a respectable 29.83 seconds. Both women are from a culture, Japan's, that -- unlike America -- reveres old age.
Age makes us freer, calmer, less lonely, better friends with ourselves. We have more of an edge and more softness. Our likes and dislikes are crisper. We understand more deeply the people we love. We know the green of spring for the first time; the thoughts in our heads, our mistakes. As old as we are, we understand the cliché for the first time; that each moment is gone forever, never, ever, to return. We love more and are also strangely removed; an observer, as if we are already looking down from heaven.
Meanwhile, we have a life to live.
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