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Is Age “Just a Number”

A Gerontologist was helping me register at the Gerontological Association Convention in Boston.
 “I’m 81,” I remarked.
“Don’t you know,” she replied sternly, “age is just a number.”
I was there at my Gerontologist daughter’s invitation to disprove certain stereotypes about aging women by talking about my present life as an “aging generative activist.”
“Activity and agency are associated with youth and manhood,” states her panel abstract, “while their opposites – passivity and dependence – are linked with old age and womanhood.”
I told the audience that age has brought me a perspective on my lifetime activism, and gave them some advice on best practices for their own engagement in the public sphere – things like choosing only one cause at a time, not working alone but with a well-organized group focused on that cause, and utilizing their particular talents rather than trying to be something they are not.
In detailing my particular adaptations for continuing my activism into old age,  I pointed out that with more frailty  I tire easily and so march less and tweet more, posting and networking, blogging like mad and engaging in conference calls and on-line meetings.
Then I took a hard look at that pesky term “generativity,” urged upon the aging by authorities like Erik Erickson as a developmental stage when you ought to guide the next generation and act upon concern for people outside of yourself and your immediate family.
Enough of that already! Erikson is a man. Calling for a burst of old age generativity from a woman who has spent her whole life doing for others looks like same old same old to me. Instead, we retired women need to develop tons of self-compassion before we fill our schedules with activism,  a balance between time just for ourselves (self-generativity) and time spent contributing to our communities and our world.
My daughter used consciousness raising groups for our question period. During the chit-chat before we started I heard one (very accomplished) older woman say to another, “But you don’t look 79!” Even here, apparently, the idea that an oldster acting (or looking) “younger” than the number that marks her age is admirable managed to creep into the conversation without any challenge.

 

If you praise me by implying that I am acting youthful by being  active, aren’t you subtracting an essential element of my existence? I am old.  I am also deeply engaged in environmental activism. Both those facts define me.  Also, by some weird cognitive quirk that could reverse itself overnight, I am smarter than I have ever been before. Sometimes, reading an author I could never get my mind around when young or proofing an article that is so complicated I can’t believe I wrote it, I can feel the little neurons in my brain fizzing away merrily just like they did during my first cognitive surge at age 14.
These are realistic descriptors of the way I am now, integral parts of my authentic being. I am not somebody’s stereotypical idea about a number, but  I am  81.  I am not a societal construct but an aged activist woman immensely grateful to have made it whole into the present moment.

Amen, Shalom, Blessed Be