Growing old is a privilege

Growing old is a privilege

31.1.2012

foto: © bestwallpapershut.blogspot.comČeská pozice

While the celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays, for me it is also a chance to celebrate my birthday, as I was born on New Year’s Eve. And though few people like the idea of aging, this year I was particularly inclined to reflect on the topic when my 18-year-old niece asked me in her very open and direct manner, “So aunty, how does it feel to get old?”

At first I was at loss for something meaningful to say. What did she mean by getting “old”?

I remember only too well looking at my parents’ generation when I was her age and thinking that they were really “old” and that aging didn’t seem like something to look forward to.

But now that I have passed the half-century milestone, my perspective on aging has changed, and I told her that while I didn’t have much choice on the issue, getting old was a privilege - those of us who are lucky enough to be alive and healthy at fifty have many reasons to be happy.

When I met my friend Tony twenty years ago, he had been diagnosed with HIV soon after his 30th birthday. At the beginning, I watched him struggle with the news and then preparing his funeral, which he thought would happen sooner rather than later. To his own surprise, he was still alive twenty years later to celebrate his 50th birthday. Today, although Tony is not cured, he is as healthy as one can be carrying the HIV virus and he is not planning his funeral anymore – he is planning the rest of his life.

Getting old is a privilege – it means that we are alive.

Being alive can be a challenge, but it also brings many opportunities. Over the years, I have learned to welcome any opportunity to experience something new and exciting, like playing golf, learning yoga or, as I did this summer, taking up meditation, which has become my new daily practice. As I get older, I value the opportunity to learn and to improve myself a lot more than I did when I was young.

Getting old is a privilege – it means that we can still learn, grow and expand.

But being alive, learning and growing becomes really meaningful when we can share it with others. Getting older means that life gave us many opportunities to receive and also to give back, to share what we know with those around us. For this reason, I am really happy to be a member of the Rotary Prague Club International, as it gives me the chance to contribute to the Rotary organization and its many worthy causes.

Getting old is a privilege – it gives us the opportunity to give back.

What about the negative aspects of getting old? In her book I Feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts About Being a Woman, Nora Ephron, the American screen writer and movie director, describes how she notices the signs of aging when shopping for clothes. She doesn’t feel comfortable going into stores where the only thing she can buy is a pair of black pants. She also doesn’t like to pull out her computer to read things she wrote a few years ago – the type too small. She used to be able to read 10-point type and now it’s 14 and sometimes 16.

As for me, I often need a special kind of dictionary to understand the text messages my niece sends me, and I’ll soon need to find another store with clothes that suite me better. I also don’t like what age is doing to my body and my energy, but I fight that by following some basic healthy habits like doing regular exercise and cutting down on the junk food. Getting old concerns all of us, but how we deal with the process is what counts. I prefer to focus on the benefits getting old brings rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of it.

Very soon I’ll be reaching what Jane Fonda, the American actress, calls our third act. I may end up having a hard time believing two-thirds of my life already went by, but I am also very much looking forward this new phase of it. And if the past is any indication of what the future holds, I know that I will have many opportunities to learn, to grow and to share with those around me.

Be happy and rejoice… Getting old is a privilege!

 

Karin Genton-L´Epée