I think we can all agree that life is one grand sweet song. It’s no wonder we’d do anything to make it last. But history tells us that many of us quit too soon. We disengage and engineer a premature old age.
Aging is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Walter Bortz, a gerontologist at Stanford says, “Imagine you’ll end up in a nursing home and chances are you will. Imagine climbing Mt. Everest and that can be your destiny.”
One of the reasons we quit too soon is perhaps because we obsess about age and allow it to define us. Our youth culture, embodied by the “Baby Boomers,” who didn’t trust anyone over 30, over the years crowded out the exploration of mid-life and beyond.
Remember the 1959 hit song, “The Three Bells” by the Browns? It was the story of Little Jimmy Brown’s three stages of life – birth, marriage and death in the little valley town. Surely, Little Jimmy had something going on between marriage and death. But as Dr. Robert Butler wrote in his Pulitzer-Prize winning book in the 70s, “The Tragedy of Old Age in America,” “Aging is the neglected stepchild of the human life cycle. Those of us who are not old, barricade ourselves from discussions of old age by declaring the subject morbid, boring or in poor taste.”
Older folks, themselves, can exacerbate negative attitudes toward aging choosing resignation, even disgust and frustration – a defeatist attitude that 40-years ago, society in general adopted.
But that was then. “Boomers” are now retiring in huge numbers – a cohort over 70 million strong – and no doubt reconsidering their distrust of anyone over the age of 30.
We are reversing the trend and facing the fact that being old is just another stage in the external aging process and being grateful for it.
When I began covering these issues of aging for CNN in the early 90s, gerontologist Ken Dychtwald told me, “In thousands of ways, we have learned to like what’s young, and dislike what’s old.”
The fact is our culture is being overwhelmed by a demographic revolution that has no precedent in history – our country is growing old. And what do you know? We are learning not to concentrate on what can go wrong with us - widowhood, retirement, disease, meaninglessness, impoverishment. “It’s high time we look at what goes right with us: the source of love, purpose, fun, sexual pleasure, spiritual companionship and sustained well being that so many people are discovering in second adulthood, much to their surprise”, as Gail Sheehy put in her book, New Passages.
Getting better with age is a hard concept for some folks. But consider the growing number of researchers who say they’ve found no biologic reason not to live to 110. It’s a quiet revolution, but a revolution to be sure.
I think Norman Vincent Peale said it best, “It’s always too early to quit.”
So hang on. The upshot is we’re living longer and the fact is, “The best is yet to be.”