Recently I read an article in which a professor suggested that our societal fear of aging is a self-fulfilling prophecy and that, in fact, those who live to the ripe old age of senior citizen are extraordinarily fortunate, despite aches and pains, loneliness, and fear of dying that everyone struggles with at some point. I personally have a few years to go until I would be considered old (although, ask a teenager and that perception might change), but I spend a good deal of time with octogenarians, septuagenarians, sexagenarians, quinquagenarians... you get the drift. I facilitate a senior writers group, I volunteer for an organization that serves a lot of seniors, and I spend a lot of time with my grandmother and other close people in my life who have considerable experience. So I think about these things a lot.
How long will it take me to get old? Some people age faster than others, mentally or physically. Will I be happy with the life I have led? Will I be okay with the majority of the decisions I have made? If I am poor, will I still find a way to be content with my life? If I am rich, will I find a way to share with those around me? What if I don't make it to the wonderful title of senior citizen? Will I still have made choices that had a positive impact on those around me?
I think that the answers to these questions are something that I could answer every day, and not just at the end of my life, whenever that may be. I think that what Professor Thomas suggests is true at any age: age and experience matter. They enrich our lives.
The first of my high school classmates died a couple of years ago in a terrible and sad boating accident. I had no idea how to react, couldn't make it to NY for the funeral, and didn't have a clue if I should do something or what. We learn to deal with these types of situations over time, of course, but I doubt it gets any easier. But I spent days afterwards, remembering how upbeat he always was, how he would bounce up to my locker and greet me in the mornings. I used to tell him he was so cheerful and bouncy, like a squirrel, and one year for Christmas he gave me a walnut.
His life was short, but he made a positive impact on me and many others, and he existence in time will never fade. His 24 years always was and always will have been.
I feel fortunate to have made it as far as I have, though I still may only be a vicenarian. And I think (right now, while I'm writing this -- I do have a tendency to change my mind) that it is important to be content now, whether I'm 27 or 87, to make decisions I can be proud of now, whether I'm 27 or 87, and focus on what good I can bring into the world. I want to feel fortunate every day, to appreciate the snow and the rain and the stubbed toes, and to look forward to my days of silver hair, arthritis, age, and experience.
In the meantime, I will keep spending time with my very favourite septuagenarians and octengenarians, and learn from their successes. I will write my own self-fulfilling prophecy.