Several months ago I agreed to be a guest speaker for a Junior League of Wichita group, Wit & Wisdom. The fact that I’m supposed to be retired didn’t deter them a bit. They even suggested a subject: “How to Age Gracefully.”
That’s a new one. I used to do nearly 60 talks a year, and that was for 30 years. But not once did I speak on this subject. I had a lot of time to figure out what to say. Then all of sudden it was Thursday, and I was trying to decide what to wear to talk to this outstanding group of women.
In the past weeks, I’ve read several articles, but they all said the same old “age is just a number, love yourself, love the skin you’re in, do crossword puzzles, exercise, blah blah blah.” All good advice. But somewhere along the way I decided perception is what it’s all about.
It was time to check in with some perception experts: my Girl Power group at Jefferson Elementary. They are fifth-graders, and we have lunch together every Wednesday. I asked them: “How old does a person have to be before you consider them old?”
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Answers ranged from 30 to 60 years old. Thirty! I asked the girl who had answered 30 why she decided on that number. She said, “Because my mom is 30, and she acts old. She says her back hurts.” The girl who said 40 said, “My mom is 44, and she’s always saying she’s old.”
Our own perception is where we need to start. Thinking that you’re an old person will age you faster than you can count the age spots on your hands.
Sixty years old was the most common answer from the seven girls. Then I bravely asked them to guess my age. I made sure I sat there smiling because we all know we look younger when we smile. (I learned that from those articles.) Thank goodness no one said 80. Guesses ranged from 50 (bless her heart) to 63. When I told them my age I heard a quiet, “wow, that’s kinda old.”
I didn’t think about my age at all until I hit 65. There’s something about all that paperwork you do with health insurance and retirement that drags you into reality. A 50th high school reunion is another not-so-gentle reminder.
But even if we have to scroll way down to get to the year we were born when filling out something online, it’s not time to wind down; it’s time to gear up.
Simply put: At a mature age we have to look as good as we can, feel as good as we can and do the best we can do for ourselves and others. It’s more satisfying looking forward instead of back. Those jeans are never going to fit again; my joints will never again be pain free; wrinkles come, but don’t go; and young people will think of me as an older person. Just don’t say elderly.
All that is just fine because there are a lot of things in my life that are far more important and a lot more fun to think about.
Reach Bonnie Bing at email@example.com