Growing Older is Quite Different from Being Old

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We are always growing older.  It’s a fact of life. We begin to grow older from the moment we are born.  When someone is young, we say that the person is growing up. Growing up implies the physical changes that the years bring to the body as well as learning the life lessons required for the next stage of life. At some stage, usually after adolescence, but not always, we drop the language of growing up and we start talking about growing old and being old.

I contend that growing older and being old are not the same.

As long as we remain on this earth, we grow older. Being old, however, is a state of mind. One can be chronologically young and be “old,”  while an 80 or 90 year old can lead an active and full life. We call this young at heart for it is in the heart that age becomes irrelevant and attitude means everything.

I love what the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said,

“It is forbidden to be old. Grow older but do not be old: that is to say, do not be bitter and despairing. Do not oppose reality, but do not prevent life from fulfilling its potential to bring forth new things, right up to your very last breath.”

I want to continue to grow old  like that. I want to live each and every day of my life with vitality, enthusiasm, enjoyment and with acceptance for who I am, where I am in my life cycle and yes, with the reality that one day I will die.

Growing old is not for the faint of heart.  Moving into the third stage of life can be daunting.  Physical challenges, loss of loved ones, isolation, loneliness, the emphasis on youth in our culture and the societal dismissal, disdain and subsequent invisibility of elders certainly contributes to the dilemma.

AND, growing older has the potential for being a rich, fulfilling, and incredibly stimulating, fun and adventurous time of life. It is a time to reap the rewards of one’s life lessons and be true to who we have come to be.

Being old, however, is quite another experience. It is giving up on the enjoyment and joys of being alive and living in suffering and despair.  It is a death before its time.

I want to grow old in a realistic way. I want to embrace all aspects of living with curiosity, enthusiasm, vitality, connections, awareness and intention to be completely alive. I want to do this with my eyes wide open; aware that changes are already happening and will continue;  that physical and mental decline is inevitable. I want to meet this head on………realistic, aware, alive and in my ageless heart.

I am learning to accept growing older. The older I become, the more I am coming to appreciate this as a great gift. And, as with any wonderful gift that I get, I treasure and savor the unwrapping, the unfolding and in this case,  find the gift of life itself.

By Roberta Teller

Betty Friedan Got it Right…….a Wise Woman Quote and Comment

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Betty Friedan got it right when she said, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”  I cannot remember a time in my life when I was happier and more fulfilled than I am right now in my 66th year of life.  Retired from my 35+ years in education, I now have more opportunities available to me than ever before. Unburdened by NOT having to adhere to a work week of commuting, earning my paycheck, squeezing in a workout at the gym and running myself ragged on my days off to get all my errands done, I am now free to explore the world however I want. I have the options to do whatever I want, when I want or quite honestly, I can sit on my ass all day and do nothing……

I choose to pursue what I derive great meaning from and dive in. 

I’m one of those people who thrives on feeling fully alive. What feeds that aliveness is being connected to myself, my loved ones and the world.  And now, more than any other time in my life,  I have the opportunity to do all of this. I have the time to nourish myself with ample rest, relaxation and exercise. I have more time (never enough) to spend with loved ones. And my world has been broadened by travel to foreign places expanding my personal horizons, mastering new skills, meandering through creative projects, and moving out of my comfort zone by doing things that I’ve never done before.

And it’s not to say that I haven’t had my challenges.  I have had some health issues that have required surgical procedures, hospitalization and months long recuperation.  I have lost loved ones and some dear friends  have died way too young. People I care about are getting sick and suffering. I look at my body sometimes and wonder, “Who are you?”

And yet, I find strength – some comes directly from lessons learned from the myriad of experiences of my life.  Some strength comes from the wisdom of those around me and honestly much of it arises from a wellspring of understanding, empathy, compassion and humor that I am able to offer myself when the going gets tough or the road becomes a little rocky.

To me, when Betty Friedan says, “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength,” she offers us a view of growing older that is rich with possibilities and ripe for personal growth.  And to me, what is much more important than being a youth or young, is that feeling of being alive and vital coupled with the wisdom of life’s lessons and learnings and understandings.  Some say, “youth is wasted on the young.”  I say, “Young’ums, the best is yet to come.”

 

By Roberta Teller