The Upside of Aging

Grandpa kidIt’s tempting, in a blog about aging bodies, to complain about mine. But something tells me that’s bad karma. I’d rather appreciate the fact that I’ve been given one more day on Earth because guess what?—that’s aging, and it’s better than the alternative.

Imagine being offered a deal by a salesman who knocks on your door every night before bed. The salesman asks, “How would you like to wake up in the morning? I can offer you two new forehead wrinkles and an extra pound on the scale for that ice cream cone you ate today. Or, if you like, we can forget the whole thing and I’ll take a picture now for your obituary, no charge.”

Most of us would grab those wrinkles, paste on that pound, and thank the man, knowing it buys us one more opportunity for ice cream—and for any other pleasures allowed by the privilege of aging.

No, it’s not fun disintegrating, which is what our bodies do from the day they stop growing. But why complain when it’s happening to everybody?

Aging doesn’t have to be painful. I know plenty of 65-, 75-, and 85-year-olds who dance, act in films, teach classes, or go to yoga or Pilates classes three times a week, and they’re not “old”—they’re inspiring! If you don’t believe me, check out this video of an 87-year-old salsa  dancer. If that’s what aging looks like, I’ll have what she’s having!

Aging offers so much to be thankful for, including the saggy baggy wrinklies that allow us to surprise people with how much fun we are. I mean, over 50 or 60, we can be terribly delightful without even trying—just like when we were toddlers.

My friend Sylvia, who is in very good shape for I’m-not-saying-how-old, tells of her grandson pressing his finger into her tummy, looking at her in wonder, and saying, “Nana, you’re so soft! You’re so squishy! I like soft. I like squishy.” Try getting that in your twenties!

No matter what we do, we’re more admirable doing it in the second half of our lives than in the first. Who’s more impressive—a 30-year-old ski instructor or the one who celebrates his 70th birthday on the slopes? The young up-and-coming chef du jour, or Julia Child? The “I’m all that” swagger of Michael Bublé or the venerable voice of Tony Bennett, with whom ingénues hope to record a duet?

Aging offers perspective, too. We know that what we see in the mirror, and what we can’t do any more, is not who we are. My partner calls middle age The Age of Nevers, as in, “I’ve never needed reading glasses before.” Maybe aging is nature’s way of helping us to look inward and to realize where beauty and energy truly begin. Maybe while our flesh is busy sliding down our bones, our youth is swimming upward through the nervous system, transforming itself into wisdom. I like to think so, anyway. It beats pulling at my cheeks in the mirror, wondering what I’d look like with a facelift.

The main reason I choose to be thankful for aging, and to have a great big birthday party every five years so that everyone knows how old I am, is that aging equals living, not dying. And I like living. I like not dying.

Age spots and wrinkles are the growth rings in my tree, and I plan to keep on sprouting leaves no matter what color they need to be dyed!

Shelley Strohm, a member of a writers and designers group I belong to, says it perfectly: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer one month prior to turning fifty.” Now, at 56, she says, “Aging is actually a really, really good thing!”

Anne Nicolai is an American writer and editor living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.