There was a day, a couple years ago, when my daughter and I were discussing an issue pertaining to my health and the demands of my job, both physically and mentally. It was an intense conversation, and always kind and loving, she tried tactfully to describe my stage of life as no longer being a spring chicken. Instead, she blurted out I needed to remember I was in my chicken years. That’s right. My chicken years. And after the laughter subsided, I realized there was something much better about being told what I was versus what I was not. So, being in my chicken years worked for me.
Yesterday, at my local grocery store, I spied a stack of newspapers on the Customer Service counter that I had never seen before. It was a monthly publication whose title gave me a happy jolt; especially two words, Boomers and Seniors. And it was free. Just my kind of newspaper. I secured one, carefully placed it in my bag, and headed home where I could read all about what I thought would be news and activities for Baby Boomers who live in the small communities dotting Oregon’s central coast.
At this point, later in the day, having read every article from front to back, plus all the ads and classifieds, the best word I can use to describe the newspaper is grim. On so many levels. From its stories and photographs, to the advertisements, and assorted classifieds, this was the most discouraging waste of paper and ink I have ever encountered.
I will not list every article, but they included music therapy for dementia patients, accompanied by pictures of a gentleman dancing all alone with an invisible partner to the violin music played by his therapist; the enormous credit card debt held by senior citizens, and how to manipulate and search for new credit cards with lower interest rates and no yearly fees, so seniors, unbelievably, can continue accruing more debt, but costing them less to do so; and a particularly not uplifting reminiscence by a former Pacific Northwest logger whose toothless grin belied a story of hardship and injury, including the loss of all the fingers of his right hand.
All those stories aside, on every page were multiple ads, and they were grimmer than the articles. A sampling: A couple crematories touting their cremation plans along with information on urns, prices and other services; several ads for dentures, vision care, hearing aids, and attorneys who specialize in estate planning, wills, and probate; the ubiquitous retirement villages; and the inevitable Hospice service. Oh my. This was not good. Not a positive word of health and vitality anywhere in the publication.
After chucking the newspaper into my garbage can, I sat back and puzzled over what I had just read. I was expecting something joyful and encouraging, something that would apprise me of opportunities for growth, connection to others, and perhaps even some continuing education. Not even close. Instead, I was assaulted by the saddest example of how aging is viewed by way too many people; those who are aged, family members of the aged, and by those who believe they are experts on the aging population and its concomitant issues. It was not the first time I have been made aware people often see aging as a disability, and subsequently a liability.
Since I do not view aging as either of these, I have to wonder if my attitude is erroneously based on the fact I still feel the same inside, and actually in many ways better, as I did in my 20’s and 30’s; or possibly hanging out with preschoolers so much of the time has altered my perception of how I should behave at this particular juncture in my journey.
I mean, seriously, I have no clue why anyone would still be using credit cards to maintain a lifestyle they no longer can afford, I cannot fathom shopping around for the best deal on an urn for one’s ashes, I think one should be proactive regarding health by taking care of it through nutrition and exercise before there is a problem, and after making out a will, one should forget about it and move on with living.
On the other hand, I find enormous pleasure in the many activities shared with my grandchildren. For example, you simply cannot feel old and infirm while joining in with your little people singing the theme song to Veggie Tales:
If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile; if you like to waltz with potatoes up and down the produce aisle…
And you cannot dwell in that black hole of depression, convinced you are standing at death’s door with a stiff wind at your back when there is an amazing puppet show being performed just for you by your grandson, using the little sock puppet his mom made for him.
The four of us know how to have fun. We go for walks, pick huckleberries, and dance to rock and roll; we sing at the top of our voices with Flynn Ryder and Rapunzel as they sing I See The Light from the movie Tangled. Every morning, we hit the floor running, and do not stop until bedtime, when it is hugs and kisses, and good nights all around. There is no time to be old and decrepit in the presence of this much youth and energy. Just no time for that, at all.
After giving due consideration to all I read in that newspaper, and examining where I really stand in this aging process, I have concluded, once again, with genetics and the unexpected accident set aside, a lot of our aging issues are about the choices we make. I think the easy route in this journey would be to sit down, gaze unblinkingly at the television, and wait for the end of the show, both on screen and in our living rooms. However, I believe the road we should travel with sincere effort, speed not required, is the one where we have to try harder, be more creative, more fearless, more determined. I believe it is good to encounter obstacles, and be opposed. We can utilize all those skills we have spent a lifetime building to conquer, or at least manage, whatever comes our way. I think it is bad and unhealthy to be passive and practice defeat at any age, and especially now as a senior.
So, in what ever manner we choose to proceed, I know we can summon up the energy and will to begin something, anything, and work diligently to complete it. These may be our chicken years, but I am convinced there is plenty of cluck left in us to match the goals we set, and the challenges we face. And when at all possible, we need to avoid people, publications, or programs that attempt to tell us we are anything less than that which we believe about ourselves, and never, never allow doubt and fear to gain a foothold in our minds or spirits.
And if anyone has forgotten where to look to renew our thought life, our sense of who we still can become; and we cannot remember where to find that place within each of us to keep the positive flame burning, I suggest reading Dr Seuss, Shel Silverstein, or Roald Dahl. The movies one should watch as often as possible? The Croods, Epic, Up, and my personal favorites, Toy Story; all three of them. I also guarantee there is no better way for someone’s joy in living to be rekindled than to read one of these books, or watch one of these movies with a happy, energetic, full of life child. And if all else fails, find your nearest grandchild, let them crawl up on your lap, put their arms around your neck, and rejoice as they whisper, “I will love you forever”. That is incentive enough for me to keep this journey going. Forever is a long time, and I still don’t want to miss a thing.