Yes, that’s a joke. It has to be, in a culture where most people expect the worst of their later years. But that wasn’t me. I launched myself into my 70s and 80s with gusto. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering whether I overrated this phase of life.
What started me wondering was a friend of mine who seldom complains. She’s nearing 90 and on track to become a centenarian, like the women in an earlier generation of her family. She seemed to thrive on growing older.
But recently she’s begun to have problems with her vision, and her prodigious energy isn’t what it was. Also, she and I just lost a good friend. The other day, she quoted Bette Davis, who famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”
When we had this conversation, we were sitting in one of our retirement community’s restaurants with another resident—for her privacy, I’ll call her Ann.
We wandered onto the topic of the restaurant’s generous buffet, which it dropped several years ago for financial reasons. When I said how much I missed it, Ann shared her philosophy.
She was grateful, she said, for the chance she’d had to enjoy the buffet while it lasted, but it was gone, and there were other things to enjoy.
That seems like a good way to think about our friend who died: we can be grateful we knew him for as long as we did.
It’s harder to feel gratitude for physical abilities we used to have that are now waning, but worth making the effort, I think. Back trouble prevents me from going on the long walks I used to love, but I can be grateful for all the walks I did take, and I can focus on the pleasure I get from shorter excursions now.
Old age is what it is—like every other phase of life, it’s a mixed blessing. But it’s also what we make of it. We can underrate it or overrate it—or just try to go with the flow.
Flora Davis has written scores of magazine articles and is the author of five nonfiction books, including the award-winning Moving the Mountain: The Women’s Movement in America Since 1960 (1991, 1999). She currently lives in a retirement community and continues to work as a writer.