...until you get there yourself.
Aging in America sometimes feels like a crime, punishable by prescription drugs, elder abuse, isolation, bullying and shunning.
Aging in America- -if we are to believe the marketing- is an insult to all we hold dear, which includes smooth thighs (which nobody over twenty has, thank you, but for the genetically-gifted), a smooth face, (which nobody has without FaceApp , thank you), triceps that don’t flap in the breeze. Well, that last one you can negotiate terms with, but the rest?
Aged is no thing to be in America. Not if you like to stay employed, stay engaged, date, be an active part of society. Increasingly, we marginalize our aging folks, at a terrible cost to everyone, including all of society.
While this isn’t true everywhere, it’s true in too many places, as the pandemic has made achingly clear.
Other parts of the world? It’s my long experience that in most developing countries, the elderly are revered, loved, treasured. Their idiosyncrasies part of family lore.
Apparently, the only old things we like in America are antiques. Even then we resent their maintenance, how delicate they can be, and how much we still need to attend to their care.
Antique dressers bring value. Antique people cost too much money. They leak, they squeak, they sneak cookies out of the pantry at night. At least I do. All three in fact. You can’t make much money selling Gramma — or her body parts for that matter- at an estate sale.
Well, maybe, if her pacemaker has any precious metals. Gold in her teeth. At least perhaps she can be mined for parts, if we can’t bear to have her be part of our lives any more.
If you’re an antique human in America, don’t count on being cared for as you toddle down the Yellow Brick Road. Not only will today’s younger generation not always help you get back up, some might well run you over entirely.
Just fading into the background
Women have a lot to say about feeling invisible as soon as they begin to go grey. America is increasingly a place which actively despises its elderly when we’re not ignoring them or wishing they would just die already.
The business of elder care here is just that: a business. Mostly it’s a business of sucking Medicare money out of our old folks. But mind you, if something better comes along, like Covid, you can be sure the profit centers of elder care will shuttle our elderly off to less-attractive spots in order to maximize profits by becoming Covid care centers.
As if we were some kind of disease. As if.
Our collective disease, if you will, is age hate. From the infantilizing language used to reduce, control and insult the elderly (sweetie, honey) to the widespread hope that Covid will rid the country of the elderly scourge. To the politicians effectively asking us to give up our last years for the good of the country.
The country would be vastly better served if inept politicians gave up their lives for us, but that’s way too hopeful.
Ugly is as ugly does, thank you Forrest Gump.
Five years ago my beloved mentor Meg Hansson died at 91. She’d been an essential element in my life, a fixture, for 33 years. In some ways I’m a bit rudderless without her. However, as with all things Goddess, Meg effectively handed me the Torch.
The Torch is handed to those who are ready. Typically, it’s the elder’s job to prepare those coming up for Torch Work. Leadership.
The Torch is earned. When your hands have no age spots, don’t sport the wrinkles of long wear, many babies held and caressed, lovers loved and much work done, they are not yet ready.
You only begin to be ready for the Torch after sixty. Why? for one, we live longer now (Sorry, guys). For another, most of us simply do not have the wherewithal, the gravitas, the perspective to carry the Torch before then.
While a great many Americans in particular want desperately to believe they have considerable agency to tell others how to live and be before sixty, the very fact of that desperate belief is proof positive that they are not ready to carry the Torch.
For age brings with it, should we do the real work, the wisdom to realize what we don’t know, the humility to step away from hubris, and with luck, the deep respect for life that only long life can give us.
The closer we inch towards death, the more dearly we love life, for we understand its finite and delicate nature. By definition, the young cannot know this, for the most part, for they still see the vast open prairies of the years ahead with no hard stop in sight.
Those are all part of Torch Work.
As with so many things, we have to wait our turn.
For this piece, that which allows us to show the way forward, the only people who can do that are those who are old. Just as the holders of all the places of food and water, the centuries-old wisdom of the great elephant herds are held by the matriarchs, it is the same with us.
What do (white male) hunters do? They cull the “old, useless matriarchs” from the herd, thereby throwing the entire herd into utter emotional disarray. They also erase millennia of knowledge, knowledge that can only be passed along by the elders to future matriarchs.
Just like now. Just like what we do with our wrinkling elders. Cull them with Covid and erase all that tribal knowledge.
America is good at erasing wrinkles. And getting better at erasing those who sport them, for the terrible fear that youth is fleeting.
Of course it is. It’s supposed to be. By the time we’re old enough to realize how fleeting it was, we’re old enough to find out that the young don’t want to hear about it.
Any more than we did.
It has always been a tetch scratchy between and among generations.
Only now, those itches are being attended to with knives and machetes, wielded without regard for the damage to us all: the young, the old and the terrified in-betweens.
Our antiques are our treasure, past present and future. When we burn those antiques, pack them away, or throw them on the garbage heap, we trash ourselves.
We need to be a Country for Old People if for no other reason than, with great fortune, we will all reach that point. We might wish for a world in which, when it's our turn to be grey and ancient, there is indeed a safe place for us to thrive.
Age hate is nothing more than self-hate redirected. When we love our aged, our elderly, our infirm, we create a safe and sacred space, permission for us to also be old, elderly, and on occasion, infirm.
And that is an antique treasure worth protecting.