Have you noticed that time is speeding up? I take the garbage to the curb on Sunday and suddenly it's time to roll it out again. Although I'm convinced life is really moving faster, I'm told this experience is associated with getting older.
There might be something to it because I'm a month away from 61. When I fill out online forms, I scroll down to the year of my birth and am always shocked at how long it takes to get there; I have to pass 59 years of numbers before I reach mine! In the past, I'd never worried about getting older and even looked forward to it -- I felt that older meant better, more accomplished, organized, together. Blessed with a healthy body and good skin, I passed 30 without noticing, 40 was a breeze. 50? No big deal and, as I suspected, my life was getting better. Finally accepting the reality that I was a better boss than employee, I changed careers in my 50s and started my own magazine, The Neighborhood News, a local publication focused on the West Adams/MidCity community in Los Angeles. (Click Here to see all publications).
I love what I do, I get to use the skills I've accumulated over the years and it feels great being of service to my community (we are about to celebrate our 5th Anniversary). All in all I'm feeling pretty chipper about things and more comfortable in my skin than ever before, regardless of its visible signs of, well, you know. My "older is better" plan seems to be working out.
So I didn't feel any "oh ohs" about getting older...until my 60th birthday. That's when it began to dawn on me that I had passed the halfway mark awhile ago. Add this slow awakening to the experience of time speeding up and without a doubt my senior years have not only arrived -- they are gaining momentum. That light at the end of the tunnel of life is a train coming right at me.
One of the many jobs I've had was working for a company selling the button that helps old people get up (you know, the "I've fallen and I can't get up!" aids). I was in my 40s and talked with seniors and their families all over America, from all walks of life. I enjoyed our discussions and learned a lot about aging from them. I talked to a senior gay man who lived in a penthouse apartment in New York and had been a top costumer on Broadway. I talked to a family who lived in the hills of Kentucky and wanted a button for their mom who lived in a cabin. I remember one woman excitedly sharing that at 72 years of age she was having the best sex of her life. She and her handsome beau loved to travel and go dancing. When I asked if they were going to get married she laughed and said no, she'd had her fill of taking care of husbands. She sees him on the weekends and kicks him out on Mondays.
I learned that seniors fall and really cannot get up. I discovered that whatever character defects you had when you were younger, are magnified when you get older. Tend to be critical? You will become that cranky old person filled with complaints. Tend to talk a lot? You'll still be a real ear bender to anyone who will listen years down the road. Love animals a little too much? You'll be the one with 20 cats. (When I shared this awareness with a girlfriend, she said she was doomed to spend her senior years with her nose buried in books.)
Many of my seniors mentioned that they didn't recognize their faces when they looked in the mirror and I heard the phrase "These aren't the golden years, these are the rusty years" more than once. Leonard Cohen wrote about it: "I ache in the places I used to play." I discovered that in order to have a relatively stress-free old age you needed lots of money or kids with lots of money who really liked you (I wonder what percentage of the senior population they inhabit?).
I talked to wonderful women who had lived adventurous lives and/or were fiercely independent. They were the most difficult to convince about getting a button, one of them assuring me that even though she had been on the floor for three days, she was able to finally drag herself to the phone. She didn't need no stinking button (her kids, of course, were at their wits end). I learned about ailments I'd never heard about. One woman mentioned her uterus kept slipping out of her vagina. I gasped. My mind shouted, "TMI! TMI!" All in all, I can say fairly confidently that none of them were happy about being old.
As I head into my 61st year I have to say I'm as happy with my life as I've ever been. Our generation has been redefining the concept of aging, but from all reports it doesn't appear as if the Boomers (or "Zoomers" as they're called in Canada) are very prepared for what's up ahead. Retirement funds have vanished. There is talk about having to work past normal retirement years, and adult kids have moved back in and are having trouble contributing. There are the unexpected ailments. Many of my boomer friends are getting the wake up call as they deal with parents at the end of their lives.
I don't have all the standard retirement accessories (i.e. funds, savings, kids), but, as it turns out, many who took that route have lost much and have little to rely on as well. My generally cheerful disposition, a tendency to think positively along with a sense of fortitude and courage have always led to solutions, but will that be a strong enough shield for what's coming?
Between now and the next 18 years, "almost one out of every five Americans -- some 72 million people -- will be 65 years or older," according to the Alliance for Aging Research. Much to the chagrin of the religious conservatives, our generation has been notorious for redefining lifestyle options. Will we find new ways of dealing with age old, aging issues? Theme-oriented retirement communes? Intentional living communities are already popping up around the country. Alternative preventative medical care? Yoga keeps our bodies limber and acupuncture does wonders for aches and pains. Will we bring bartering back? Find a way to use our wisdom, once valued in the tribe, to trade for services?
The theme for the boomer generation has been "Times they are a changin" and that may end up applying to new solutions we come up as we learn to handle our aging issues. Knowing I'm not alone with these concerns, I would love to know other boomers' thoughts on how they are handling these issues. Did your retirement fund evaporate? Kids not as successful as you hoped? Lost the house? The job kick you out just before retirement? Or are things going well? Why? Share your experience, concerns and/or solutions. I can't figure this out by myself.