I’m headed for my 73rd birthday in early May. One of my Iowa cousins, slightly older than I, has just died. A Rochester friend, sinking precipitously into dementia over several years, has lost the ability to recognize anything that stretches beyond the immediate moment. A Seattle friend battling the recurrence of cancer is way out on the limb of experimental immunotherapy, which is reducing the size of his tumors but also killing his immune system. This is the final treatment option; there is no plan beyond this one.
So it seems natural that I’m drawn to articles about meaning and happiness as I age.
Jane Brody writes on health and wellness for the New York Times. Brody was born in 1941, which makes her four years older than I. We’re close enough in age to be like passengers in the same train car, seeing similar vistas outside, arriving at our destinations, perhaps, in a similar time frame. In her article Brody reviews two books on aging, both of which come to a similar conclusion: the way to a happier and healthier experience of aging is to spend more time with people who are already there, seeking and sharing wisdom.
“What’s the best way to develop a healthy perspective on old age? Spend more time with elderly people and discover what brings meaning and pleasure to their twilight years despite the losses, both physical and social, they may have suffered.”
I’m a bit torn over the dual imperatives to live life fully at whatever stage you might be in, while also sharing the wisdom you’ve attained while getting there or being there. I get the first part, living life fully. That seems uncomplicated, and a proper response to the preciousness of life.
The second part, about sharing wisdom, seems more complicated. In the first place, imparting wisdom requires a willing audience. I’m not sure, when I was in my 40’s, that I had much patience with what older people wanted to teach me. I wanted to figure things out for myself. I’m not sure, when I attend a social event in my apartment building — filled as it is with young tech workers in their 20’s and 30’s — that they look at me as a source of wisdom. When I grab a glass of wine and slide into one of the small groups engaged in conversation, I feel welcome enough — but I have no sense that they look at me with any expectation that a Living Oracle has arrived. I generally adapt to their conversation, which usually centers around career issues, not the other way around.
I do have two friends in their 90’s whose lives I greatly admire. I do learn from them on a range of issues around aging, and to some extent I look to them for a window into what my next ten or twenty years might be like. But I don’t know if it’s because they are old, exactly — it’s more that I always look to people who seem to have it together about life, no matter what age they are.
You can see I’m in a proper muddle about this. A comment or two from readers might lead me out of the muddle into a clearer way of thinking about whether sharing wisdom is necessarily a part of healthy aging. 🙂