The idea of getting old isn’t a happy one in our culture. Maybe in the centuries gone by the Chinese revered their elders; perhaps aging folk in other societies earned respect, a cozy place by a fire, and the finest tidbits of food. Certainly not true in our times. Even discussion about being old is abhorred by many of my friends.
In fact at a recent gathering of a small group, the others reacted like irate cats when I said we all are now old. “Don’t call me that,” one snapped. “I get around just as well as I did twenty-five years ago,” said another. “Old is a matter of attitude,” chimed in a third.
I admit that the term old has such a negative spin that I cringe every time I hear it, particularly since it’s usually associated with negative qualities. Why? At its heart, old is just a description, along the lines of tall or blond or thin. A state of being or existence, not necessarily to be associated with any value judgment.
I’m not naïve enough to believe my own statement. Descriptions most often carry an appraisal, a worth. So in an attempt to qualify old with some positives, I started thinking about what I’m finding is good about my increasing age.
I don’t have to pretend I care about nonessentials. I don’t like dogs, wasn’t raised with ‘em, am scared of them. My neighborhood runs rampant with the creatures, and some of them are aggressive, others bark or bound all over the walkway, most of them are irritating (shoving their noses up my privates). And, know what?, I’ll say something if they’re bothersome. Your babble about “he’s nice,” “he’s friendly” mean nothing to me. I never let my kids chew on people’s shoes or legs or lick them, and you shouldn’t allow your pet. Nowadays, I’ll tell you so.
My appearance isn’t the be-all and end-all of my personal concerns. Men don’t eyeball me whenever I’m out, and I’m relieved. So what if I failed to apply makeup or tint and curl my hair? The public doesn’t even register the attractiveness of aging women, and a little lipstick isn’t going to change this. Ditto about clothing. As long as I avoid flaunting nudity or dirt, that’s all that matters. I may have come by this attitude through genetics. My mother traded wearing bras for comfort at about 65. My dad, always eccentric, once wore rope for a belt. He opted for flannel and Hawaiian shirts as his uniform when he became eligible for Social Security.
Good nutrition often can be ignored. Within reason, my eating habits built over the years, including attempts at maintaining my weight, are so reflexive, they affect me automatically. I’ve stopped reading labels, juggling calories, wondering if an additive or preservative is going to negatively impact me. Thrown away my calorie and carb counters. Freedom!
In terms of the medical community, health care professionals tend to be laid back about tests, medications, and advice. Pap smears, breast exams, my Type 2 diabetes pills, the quantity and quality of my bowel habits, the push for dental implants, all have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps doctors realize, like a wise parent does, that I’m not making major changes at this stage of my life.
Also related to physical condition, some positives actually occur in the body. Oldies tend to get fewer colds. Not infrequently allergies lessen their impact on you. Mental capabilities for a number of areas can even improve–vocabulary, spatial orientation, verbal memory, and problem solving abilities. Age can provide a helpful perspective about what’s important and accumulation of certain types of knowledge.
Another good thing: age becomes a card I can play when I’m in a tough or delicate situation. When pulled over by a police officer years ago, I used to bat my eyelashes and flirt like crazy. Nowadays I do my best to emphasize my grandmotherly qualities. Who wants to envision a harmless little old lady being dragged to jail. Ditto on clumsiness, acting grouchy, forgetting an appointment or a fact. People have a great capacity for overlooking these errors once they realize I’m getting along in years. “Aaaah,” people breath in sympathy.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to me personally: I no longer feel a responsibility to resolve the world’s evils. Guilt no longer dogs my every thought. Used to be an incident of child abuse, domestic violence, international armed conflicts, starvation and failure of crops, the impacts of hurricanes and natural disasters, children isolated alone in armed encampments resulted in a round of obsessive thoughts. What can I do? What should I do? Why can’t our so-called leaders see what’s right the way I can? Evil has a finite limit. At the least it will come to an end for me when I die. And if I’m activated to do something, I can contact officials and call them assholes with impunity because I don’t worry if they think I’m impolite or stupid.
This comes down to just not giving a damn any longer. I know I can’t do much, so I give myself permission to stop worrying. Aging brings me a blessed relief and release. When I’m tempted to resume my burden, I recall a cartoon I saw years ago. An aging man sat at a table, his face wrinkled with apprehension. He said to his wife, “Don’t tell me I’m as old as I feel. I feel like I’m a hundred and seventy-eight.”
I just found out that January 10 is Kiss a Ginger Day. In case you don’t know, a “ginger” is someone with red hair. I have two reasons for being interested: I’m working on a short story about my neighborhood, which has an inordinate percentage of redheaded children, and I have two gorgeous ginger grandsons.
Contrary to the old perception of redheads, which was that they had fiery tempers, bad teeth, and were generally less attractive, I always liked red hair of every shade, from strawberry blonde to deep flaming tresses. My first boyfriend in the sixth grade had red hair, the smartest boy in the class. He also had the traditional less-desirable traits: glasses, lots of freckles, and already a nerd at the age of eleven. I imagine he went on to discover a cure for some dreadful disease or head a space research lab.
The prejudice against redheads is in rapid decline. Where once paintings of shifty, evil Judas Iscariot frequently portrayed him with red hair, now we know redheads have higher pain thresholds (although some websites say the opposite) and can manufacture more of their needed Vitamin D. Where once they were thought to be sneaky, now they’re believed to have stronger sex drives (I guess this wasn’t desirable in days gone by), There used to be a Kick a Ginger Day. No more. If you’re cautious with your kisses, in addition to the January 12 kiss-fest, there’s a separate Hug a Ginger Day on February 22. England, France, Sicily, and Italy have national festivals to celebrate their collections.
If you’re a redhead, or you like redheads, you’re in good company. Julianna Moore, Prince Harry, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Reba McEntire, Sean White, Christina Hendricks, Damian Lewis. My very favorite is actor Colin Firth, who once was rejected for a major role because he was “too ginger.” Since that time he usually has dark hair in his films, edging toward gray nowadays. Speaking of gray, redheads tend to skip that stage, retain their red coloring until they turn white. If you wish you were redheaded, a dye job is easy to come by.
When people see my two redheads, I’ve been congratulated, then told stories about their positive traits—individualism, intelligence. So let’s hear it for the gingers. As a tiny percentage of the world’s population they’ve fascinated and frustrated us, tempted and taunted us. As for me, I’ll give my two gingers a big smacking kiss and hug for being the bright, wonderful people they are.