I have recently come to realize that I’ve been looking at this aging process all wrong. For the past couple years, I’ve spent entirely too much time dwelling on all the depressing disadvantages of getting older–things like decreasing eyesight and increasing wrinkles, graying hair and creaking (and popping and aching) knees. And I’ve been more than a little concerned over my frequent bouts of insomnia and the resulting need for lengthy (but oh so delicious!) afternoon naps.
But obsessing over these disadvantages is just plain silly. I can still see what’s important (the storm warnings at the bottom of the TV screen, the fine print on the prescription bottles, the medical advice on WebMD), the wrinkles are still few and relatively minor, the gray hair can be disguised with occasional applications of Preference by L’Oreal’s Biscotti Dark Blonde, and the creaking knees and sleepless nights are responding quite nicely to my recent increase in physical activity.
So, when I stop focusing on all the minor inconveniences of getting older, I’m able to see there really are quite a few perks as well. Seriously. Some of you “whippersnappers” (in my book, that’s anyone younger than 35) might not believe me, but I’m willing to bet that most persons my age and older will know what I’m talking about.
A few physical advantages come immediately to mind. First of all, as we age our taste buds become less sensitive. Foods that I found disgusting and gag-worthy when I was younger–hamburgers and cheeses and spinach and yogurt, to name just a few–now are not only tolerable but actually quite yummy, and I have my de-sensitized taste buds to thank for my expanded menu selections. Slower hair growth is another benefit of aging–perhaps not for those males with already limited resources atop their shiny scalps, but for those of us older women who still want smooth, silky legs it’s nice not to have to shave them every single day in order to achieve the desired effect (simply because less shaving means fewer slices on the kneecaps and ankles and therefore less blood pooling in the shower floor).
We are also better predictors of the weather than any meteorologist. If you want to know if it’s going to rain or snow tomorrow, don’t flip to the Weather Channel–turn to the lady whose knees just popped when she sat down. Her joints hold all the answers. And still another physical advantage for most older persons–and definitely for me–is a healthier immune system. Let’s face it–when you’ve been alive as long as I have, there are very few germs you haven’t been exposed to already. Consequently, most viral infections won’t even exert the effort necessary to penetrate this fortress of antibodies.
Even better than the physical advantages, though, are all the mental benefits of getting older. The experts (“experts” being anyone on the internet with a stated opinion) cite the following perks:
- Wisdom. There are very few things we have left to learn the hard way. Been there, done that. I now know not to iron work clothes while wearing a bikini (suntan oil sizzles and smokes and then scorches underlying skin). I also know not to wear a bikini, period. I know not to pour cold water into a hot, glass dish (it makes the glass explode and dinner fly into remote kitchen corners), and I know to check to be sure the crockpot is unplugged before immersing it into a sink full of soapy water (forgetting to do so can be quite shocking). Life experiences are great teachers.
- Long-term memory. We may not be able to remember why we came into this room thirty seconds ago, but scientists say if we stay “mentally active,” we can probably remember everything important that has happened in our world in the last 20, 30, 40 years (of course, we get to decide what was important, and if we can’t remember it, it obviously wasn’t important). Not only can we remember most of the past, but we can also “remember” that we were stronger, faster, better, smarter, and prettier than others might believe possible. But here’s the thing–if I embellish just a little and tell you that I was the district champ in the discus throw in junior high, can you prove me wrong?
- Patience. I personally have not mastered this one yet, but it’s obvious that many of the older persons around me have. They are in no hurry to get where they’re going–they know they’ll get there eventually, so why not drive 35 mph and enjoy the scenery along the way?
- Empathy. As we age, it’s easier to understand and sympathize with the feelings and actions and circumstances of others. Maybe we haven’t had the same experiences ourselves, but we’ve been around long enough to know to “walk a mile in their shoes” before judging. I have never suffered the consequences of a devastating earthquake or an ensuing tsunami, and I’ve certainly never had to worry about the effects of nuclear radiation (and especially how that radiation will affect my children); even so, my heart can still break for the people of Japan, and I can still cry over their losses and their fears.
- Appreciation and Perspective. Many of life’s “big events” are already behind us, so now we have time to focus on and appreciate the much more abundant little wonders that life has to offer. Spring rains making the dogwoods bloom, chocolate cake baking in the oven, a favorite song playing on the radio, good friends laughing at our silly (and oft-repeated) stories, eyes popping open in the morning (and the accompanying realization that we’re still alive)–it’s all good. We have also gained the perspective to realize what’s important and what’s not and the ability (for the most part) to see the “big picture” and not get overly stressed about the little things that really don’t matter.
- Control. Our kids are now pretty much grown, with lives of their own, and they no longer need (or want) us in the middle of their business. We don’t have to make sure that homework gets done, that uniforms get washed, or that children get delivered to the right event at the appointed time. We are in control, and our “free time” has become our own, to do with as we wish. Feel like taking a nap? Do it. Want popcorn for supper? Why not? Interested in a weekend trip to that little, picturesque town you’ve always wanted to visit? What’s stopping you? The power to do what we want–as well as the power not to do what we don’t want to do–is a wonderful thing.
These are just a few of the many advantages of getting older; I’m sure some of you can cite even more reasons to relish this wonderful time in our well seasoned lives. (Did you know that kidnappers and stalkers seldom target older persons? Apparently they think we’re not worth the effort–although telemarketers and scammers seem to hold a much different view.)
I frequently have students and younger friends ask if I would like to be their age again, and my answer is almost always a resounding “NO!” I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to make a few split-second blasts to the past to make a few minor “corrections” (who wouldn’t appreciate that opportunity?), but for the most part, I’m happy with where I am and where I’m headed.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading political activist for women’s rights back in the 1800’s, said that “The heyday of a woman’s life is the shady side of fifty.” Now, in my mind, I’m still walking in the sunshine with the “shady side” over a distant hill many miles (and many years) away, but it’s pleasant to think that my “heyday” is yet to come, that my best is yet to be.