In Praise of Being Old

Live Oak TreeI am declaring publicly for the first time that I am unequivocally and unimpeachably old. I reject all those other words we use in order to step gingerly around the word “old.” Senior citizen, elder, representative of the golden years, etc. On my birthday, March 28th, I will be 62 years OLD – not 62 years young. I am old, and I love it!

The first time I taught Developmental Psychology, I came across the notion that, according to science, when we use the qualifier “old” in reference to something about ourselves (“I can’t remember that name – I must be getting old.”), we’re doing something that is very unhealthy. As the logic goes, our brains record hearing the word “old” used to describe our state of mental and physical being, which then speeds up a proverbial neurological domino effect that gradually wreaks havoc on us. The more we say the word “old,” the more we actually age ourselves — so it is said.

To this line of reasoning and so-called science, I now say “Horse-feathers!” The assumption is that our brains recognize the word “old” as a bad word, a toxin if you will. But it needn’t be so. Although in our culture, with its obsessive comparing of what is new to what is old, and with its contrasts of the glories of youthfulness to the pitfalls of old age, it is easy to see how we are already far down the road towards being brainwashed to believe “old = bad.”

Again, however, it needn’t be. Yes, at 62, I have more aches and pains than I once did. I have a new right hip and a left knee that may someday require replacement too. I seem to add one or two new supplements every other year or so to my daily regimen of vitamins and such. I now have sleep apnea and a cute little machine beside of my bed that helps keep my breathing steady and my wife satisfied that she can now get a good night’s sleep without the sound of my snoring. I’m old — what would one expect? Every time I go to a conference and reconnect with old friends, we spend about half of our time catching up on what new ailments our old bodies have developed. We’re like a group of grizzled survivors from the latest reality TV series!

Old is good, I say. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. Most days I have a sense of contentment that is beyond words and, at times, beyond what logic would predict. I am more aware than ever of the sadness and sorrow of life lived in this world and of the sorry state of affairs in many corners of my country and our world, and I find myself checking the obituaries more frequently than ever before. And yet I celebrate being old. I celebrate simple pleasures like walking my dog and making a pot of yummy soup on a Sunday afternoon. I celebrate learning more and more to appreciate opportunities to just “be,” rather than running pell-mell towards new things to do or accomplish. I have a vocation that makes my daytime activity satisfying and meaningful, friends and family about whom I care deeply, and I have a loving wife with whom I can share both laughter and tears, good movies and good food, and a rhythm of togetherness and being separate that feels right and healthy and harmonious.

Old is good, I now know, though the world has been trying to get me to avoid using this word for a long-time now. Give me the senior discounts, and yes open the door for me if you see me struggling a bit. Bring me the best medicine healthcare and insurance can provide — not to keep me from death’s door, but in order to give me every second and every breath and every moment of gratitude that I can enjoy. For I no longer laugh in the face of the word “old,” as if I could thus keep old age at bay. I laugh, instead, to be old and to make old age a good, and true, and faithful friend. And most days, I find life as an old person to be an unbelievably amazing and wonderful mystery. I can almost not believe that I have been allowed to live in it’s autumnal glory.