BIRTHDAYS, FRIEND OR FOE?
Well, it is the end of January and time for another birthday. Yup, in just a few days, that magic clock will tick and add one more year to my life. It is funny to think how our outlook towards birthdays changes as we age. Think back to when you were six years old, and boasted to everyone when you were six and half, and you could not wait to turn seven! Then comes the excitement of being a teenager (13), turning 18 and the infamous age of 21. While men and women have slightly different outlooks towards aging, well more than slightly, something begins to happen as we approach 30, then 40 and holy cow the big Five-O! Most of us begin to shun the idea of getting older. Is it the grey hair? I don’t relate to that since I lost my hair years ago!!
What happened to the concept of getting better with age? Think of all of the things we like as they get older. Starting with a simple one, how about wine? Almost all wines improve with age. They develop more body, a more robust taste and improved definition (I got that from Wine Spectator). And what about all of the expensive classic cars and classic rock-n-roll. Last week I was at a steak house that boasted of steaks aged for 21 days----imagine that, and who cares about the age of the cow? When is the last time that a Picasso sold at auction decreased in value, or someone paid less for Micky Mantle’s rookie baseball card from its previous sale?
We have so many things in life that increase in value, or improve with age; why do we humans shun getting older? Well, the facts are simple. As we age, we fear illness, our own death, wrinkles, loss of loved ones, weakening bodies, memory loss, and a host of other things. I was in LA last month and visited my ex-in-laws who had recently moved into a lovely retirement complex. This place was adorned like a Ritz Carlton, and yet as I gazed around and observed the other elderly people in the dining room, Eddie who is 94 leaned over to me and said, “they are all waiting to die.” I looked at him and asked, “Are you one of them?” I already knew the answer, and while as Eddie ages he knows that one day, his time will come, he actually lives every day wanting to live another day. He plays poker (can’t count the times he has robbed me blind), bridge, reads like a maniac and there is not a crossword puzzle he can’t complete. Beyond that, Duffy their dog, does not walk himself, so Eddie is out walking the dog in the beautiful California weather. This is a man, along with his wife Joan, living their days with great zest for the adventure of tomorrow. And it is not as if they have not seen their share of tragedy, losses or illnesses.
Consider this: Research shows (No, real, honest-to-God research by people who actually know how to do research) that people 50-or-older who have a more positive concept of aging are likely to live an average of 7.5 years longer than folks who think that aging is the pits. Furthermore, those of us who are OK with “aging” are more likely to have better memory and better balance, and for the most part, don’t spend their days waiting to die. Nobody can deny that genetics plays a role in aging and no matter how optimistic we are, some of us will contract cancer, MS, Parkinson’s Disease and many others illnesses that cut lives short. But for the rest of us, it seems like there are choices on how we approach our next birthday and the simple fact we are getting older.
Last year, I hit a big marker. I turned 60 and felt troubled as my birthday approached. When I was younger, I considered 60 as old. So, was I old now, or was that just a story I was telling myself? The answer was simple as the big day arrived, and I realized it was just a number and did not define me or my life. My 25-year-old daughter called to wish me a happy birthday and added, “Dad, I always thought 60 was old until I looked at you and realized that when I turn 60, I want to be just like you!” That made my year and I have reveled in sharing the story many times. My daughter saw a life filled with living. I teach and practice yoga, and can still do head stands (my goal is to stand on my head until at least 85 or I break a hip, whichever comes first). I truly believe I have improved with age and it comes in many forms.
Aside from taking care of my physical health, I am devoted to expanding my mind and my way of thinking. Like the research shows, I rely on improving the positive tilt of my brain and find ways to stay active and explore new things. I also no longer fear, or am resentful of aging. In fact, quite the opposite: I believe as I age I have grown wiser and have more to offer myself and those around me. I see myself as that fine bottle of wine that gets better over time. And while I realize I will have the normal aging challenges that we all face, I will accept them and move on as best as possible. The facts are the facts; we begin aging from the moment we are born. But we have a choice to resist it, or embrace each new year and make this year even better than the last one. So, in two days I turn 61 and I think it’s great. And who knows, I might even let my friends know when I turn 61 and a half!!