Having just observed one of those “how-does-it-feel-to-be ... ?” birthdays, I frequently confound folks when I smile and utter the above reply. Certainly it is an illogical answer for someone meandering through his seventh decade, or as Shakespeare depicts in the noted “Seven Ages” soliloquy in As You Like It: “The sixth age shifts / Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, / With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; / His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide / For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, / Turning again toward childish treble, pipes / And whistles in his sound.”
Spectacles do perch upon my schnoz and I do have a pouch -- more frontal than side-ish. But I feel I have not yet devolved into the pantaloon role. Instead, I view these graying years as an opportunity to recycle back into the wonders of childhood, a time of curiosity and learning. For instance, since retreating from the world of daily work, I have completed a seminary course on Koine Greek, enabling me to open the Holy Scriptures in enlightening and powerful new ways. And I can now hang beside my parchments for psychology, English, and theatre arts, a brand new certificate announcing that I am OSHA-certified to operate a forklift, training required for my volunteer involvement in a local non-profit’s warehouse.
During my career in the classroom, it was my job to inspire my charges, to hone the milieu of learning in ways that pushed students to aspire to flourish in and out of school. Now that I have become young again, what joy resurfaces as I am the one inspired by the world around me and the beauty of creation. How good it is to regain the child-like wonder while viewing a red-tailed hawk soaring high upon the thermals or a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering at eye level outside my study window. During these elder years I have felt ingenuous, wide-eyed awe at seeing firsthand the stonework of the ancient Egyptians or the Meso-American Mayans or the early Chinese wall builders. Experiencing these, I did not jump and dance and clap with abandon as a youngster might at seeing something overwhelming, but I could have.
Beyond regaining wonder, becoming young again means having fun again in ways most adults would not consider during their “proper years.” Singing while dealing with some drudgery, especially if you make up the lyrics as you go along, makes the load lighter or telling stories using distinctive and funny voices releases a creative spirit that might have been covered over during the adult years.
The confidence of maturity encourages behavior that mirrors the trusting nature of a child. It is easy to pass along a smile to a passing stranger. It is easier to ask for help since you realize your limitations. It is no longer a burden to share treasures with others, whether it is a chocolate cookie or a check, the only reasons being either someone needs it or you just want to do it. Aspersions cast at oldsters land and last no longer than childhood playground taunts. And what childhood would be complete without lots of chuckles, chortles, and giggles, particularly if you are laughing at yourself.
I am not naive; I recognize for many aging people, life can be an eddy of medical, monetary, and emotional trials. I acknowledge that I have been blessed--through skillful physicians, cleverly designed “after market” titanium contrivances, and a wonderful, persistent wife who for nearly five decades has assured I eat and conduct myself healthfully--with robust wellness that allows me to remain a vibrant member of the community. I also have the advantage of having spent all of my career life surrounded by gaggles of students, and I believe firmly being with young people kept me young as the calendar pages turned and turned.
Even for those not so fortunate, the inherent problems faced by the aging need not lead to a fragile existence. “[S]tudies that look at age identity — also known as subjective, or felt, age — have found that feeling younger than you really are is linked to better health, life satisfaction and cognitive abilities,” notes Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz in a Chicago Tribune article “How Old Do You Feel Inside?” So if we perceive ourselves as being young again, perhaps our joints will not creak so loudly or our conversations will not be so curmudgeonly.
“Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children,” observed George Bernard Shaw. I challenge all “boomers” out there who are reaching the the proverbial Golden Years to make them truly golden by not wasting their second chance at youth. The folks at American Aging Research find, despite the stereotypes, “In addition to all the physical changes we experience as we age, there are numerous changes in spirit as well. Older adults are generally more positive in their outlook in life, they are calmer and more understanding, and they become more open-minded.” Those seem youthful traits to me.
Geezers and geezettes too often grow into the molds of grouchiness and forgetfulness and “early-bird specials.” Looked at differently, an “early bird” could be a “young bird,” chirping cheerfully and enlivening the world with its song.
“It takes a long time to become young,” according to artist Pablo Picasso. So it does, but it’s worth the wait.
By Lloyd Sheaffer