Mark Twain

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

- Mark Twain

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Story about Aging -Maturity is Wasted on the Old

Maturity is Wasted on the Old - Montclair, NJ Patch:

Maturity is Wasted on the Old

With age comes wisdom, but that doesn't make it any easier sometimes.

By Jaleh Teymourian Brahms
December 10, 2011

I was very pretty once, but I took it for granted. I thought it was something that would always be part of me, like language or ethnicity.... Having said that, I'm not an old hag, I look pretty darn good – wait for it – for my age. Yes there it is, the age disclaimer.
...when you’re young you have no idea how to be a proper young person; you’re torn up with existential angst.  Life at that age is about hurtling forward and not about living in the moment. 

Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote, "Age is a terrible avenger. The lessons of life give you so much to work with, but by the time you’ve got all this great wisdom, you don’t get to be young anymore. And in this world, that’s just about the worst thing that can happen – especially to a woman. Whoever said youth is wasted on the young actually got it wrong; it’s more that maturity is wasted on the old."

I feel no older now than I did at 22, and yet looking at photos of myself at that age, it's clear I have aged. At 22 I sat in the Groucho Club in London and boldly declared to a friend that I wanted an extraordinary life. It seemed ludicrous for me to want anything less. 

Now, years later I still want an extraordinary life, I still have unfulfilled ambitions, but I am no longer young. The world tells me I no longer have a great expanse of time in front of me to achieve this extraordinary life, and perhaps should resign myself that my ship has sailed and all I have to look forward to now is grandchildren and retirement. The poet Robert Frost paints an equally bleak picture of getting old in: 

Provide, Provide

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

As Frost points out, youth and beauty which fade so quickly cannot help us transcend time. We all age, we all die. Coming to grips with mortality is sobering. Dealing with a body that has begun to betray you is frustrating. You are forced to deal with limitations you previously never had. None of us wants to think of our lives on this earth as temporal, and that once gone we will be forgotten, eventually, as the relationship between us and our descendants is no longer tethered in their very beings, as it is in our children.

We also fear the 'later disregard' as Frost said. During a conversation with my mother about a doctor's visit she said rather poignantly, "Now that I am 70, my doctors treat me like I am invisible or worse, feeble minded." Growing older has been denigrated and treated like a series of humiliating inevitabilities; regression to childish behavior, frailty and memory loss. These are stereotypes ingrained in our society.

As holders of deeply engrained stereotypes of the aging process, we subconsciously view them as facts of life. Psychologists have found that "low expectations lead to decreased effort, less use of adaptive strategies, avoidance of challenging situations, and failure to seek medical attention for disease-related symptoms."

In a Harvard study, Drs. Ellen Langer and Rebecca Levy "confirm the effect of these negative stereotypes on aging Americans. Using standard psychological measurements of memory, the researchers studied two populations of people who hold their elders in high esteem — elderly mainland Chinese and older, deaf Americans — and compared them to a group of elderly mainstream Americans. In addition, the researchers compared memory retention in the elderly with younger people in all three groups.

"Not only did the mainland Chinese and American deaf far outperform the mainstream Americans on four psychological memory tests, but the oldest in these two groups, especially the Chinese, performed almost as well as the youngest. Their performance was so strong even the researchers were surprised. They conclude that the results can be explained entirely by the fact that the Chinese have the most positive, active and 'internal' image of aging across the three cultures studied."

In other words, we fall victim to our own fears, in a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy.

And what about the way we look? As former supermodel Paulina Porizkova said, "Nothing galls me as much as age-defying celebrities who achieve their looks by "healthy food and yoga." I know this is bulls**t.  You may not. But I can guarantee we will both feel bad about the way we look, the way we have let ourselves go, when Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore look not a day over 30."

In our society it's unacceptable to look our age, and yet unacceptable to admit to cosmetic procedures to avoid looking our age.  There’s nothing wrong with plastic surgery, but lying about it? Come on.

Susan Sontag said, "Aging is a movable doom. It is a crisis that never exhausts itself, because the anxiety is never really used up."

By treating aging as a disease and treating those we consider elderly as afflicted we do ourselves a disservice. We deny ourselves not only access to their wisdom and experience, but also examples of what it is to age well in some cases.

At the funeral service, an 80-year-old musician told me he still sees his friends as they once were and it's disconcerting to think of them as parents and grandparents, let alone dying. We spent hours listening to him talk about his experiences, watching him accompany my friend, a jazz vocalist, on the piano. He didn't wear reading glasses, he wasn't stooped or frail, he didn't have awkward memory lapses or anything we've come to associate with aging. "I'm still young," he told me tapping his heart, "in here where it counts."

Entire Poem:

Robert Frost - Provide, Provide

The witch that came (the withered hag) 
To wash the steps with pail and rag, 
Was once the beauty Abishag, 

The picture pride of Hollywood. 
Too many fall from great and good 
For you to doubt the likelihood. 

Die early and avoid the fate. 
Or if predestined to die late, 
Make up your mind to die in state. 

Make the whole stock exchange your own! 
If need be occupy a throne, 
Where nobody can call you crone. 

Some have relied on what they knew; 
Others on simply being true. 
What worked for them might work for you. 

No memory of having starred 
Atones for later disregard, 
Or keeps the end from being hard. 

Better to go down dignified 
With boughten friendship at your side 
Than none at all. Provide, provide!


Poet: Robert Frost
Poem: Provide, Provide
Volume: A Further Range
Year: Published/Written in 1936
Last read: Dec 14 2011, 8:47PM
Viewed 21,895 times.
Added Feb 20 2003.

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