Growing old (dis) gracefully

I never really expected to be this old. I’ve already lived longer than both my parents did, and when I look through my address book, I see many names of friends who were younger.

The writer, who has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
The writer, who has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I never really expected to be this old. I’ve already lived longer than both my parents did, and when I look through my address book, I see many names of friends who were younger than me but who have already passed on.
A few years ago, my sister sent me a book that has engaged my mind ever since, particularly the title poem by Jenny Joseph. It begins:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
The poem ends with this stanza:
But now we must have clothes to keep us dry
And pay our rent, and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked or surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
This is a woman who not only looks life in the face, but challenges it, dares it to break her spirit.
One day we will all be old, like I have to acknowledge that I am, but how we face it makes all the difference to our quality of life. We should determine to remain productive, because much of our identity is tied to what we do. Even after retirement, we can still participate in society by volunteering the skills and expertise we have built up over a lifetime.
A former teacher can help Ethiopian children learn Hebrew or English, or help disadvantaged children to catch up to their peers. A former salesperson can volunteer in the gift shop of a hospital. There are unlimited opportunities to help, and the benefit, like virtue, is its own reward. When we give of ourselves, we feel valued and needed.
There are lots of positive things to enjoy about growing old. You stop fighting with your children, because probably they have children of their own. You don’t have to give them a curfew, warn them about talking to or accepting sweets from strangers, or hitchhiking. Now they’ve got all those worries with their own kids.
You can be the source of knowledge for your grandchildren and their children, who equate age with wisdom (until some blabbermouth comes along and tells them that stupid old people exist, too).
When you don’t want to do something, feign fatigue, and get sympathy instead of resentment. You can entertain whomever you want, as often as you want, until what hour you want, and no one’s going to suspect you of being naughty (maybe that’s a minus, not a plus?).
You can have a bad hair day now and then without it shattering your life, and you certainly won’t get teenage acne. You’ll always get a seat on the bus, and if your middle spreads a bit, no one will ask you if you’re pregnant.
Now that you know all the answers, it’s sad that no one bothers to ask you the questions. You can carry in your purse a cocktail of pills for your aches and pains, and no one wonders if they are Ecstasy, LSD or crack. And you can watch R-rated movies if you want to.
We don’t have to go over the hill and down the other side. We can climb a new hill, a gentle slope, an exciting and adventurous one, where there’s a lot more living and loving still to do. We can be proud of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with all the joys and none of the responsibilities.
Sure, we are past it – past the worry of raising a family, past being a slave to everyday jobs and the stresses and strains of the rat race. In fact, we are past the post, winning the race.
So now that I am really old, I think I’ll start wearing purple and practice how to be eccentric, defiant, unconventional, and maybe I’ll have a wow of a time!
The writer, who has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. dwaysman@gmail.com


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