There are so many negative phrases out there about aging, aren’t there? I often hear the sayings “Old age ain’t for sissies” (Bette Davis) and “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” (Joni Mitchell), or “Life’s a b–ch and then you die” (author unknown).
I don’t want those negative sayings to frame my thinking as a senior. The phrase I want to use as a mantra is “Age is an art.” It’s part of the saying, “Youth is a gift, age is an art,” printed on a button that I gave my grandmother many years ago.
There are many arts that I find I am practising these days. The art of living with loss is something that many have experienced and some have described so well. There are many bloggers out there who write about aging. It’s not just the loss of family and friends (and pets), it’s also living with the loss of intangibles, such as energy, sometimes health, work, mobility, maybe vision, community standing and even one’s home. Some people are inspiring in how they learn the art of living with loss, and I have some great friends who have demonstrated this inspiration as time goes on.
There are many other arts that aging can demand or enhance. There is the art of patience with any shortcomings: with oneself, with others and with the health care system, for example. There is the art of time and often energy management: volunteer activities or paid employment, social time, family time, appointments, chores and routine tasks, medications, physical activity, spiritual exercise and so on. There is the art of financial management, including dealing with a relatively fixed income while living costs continue to rise and unexpected expenses occur.
The art of developing or enhancing wisdom is a key art that is so massive I cannot begin to describe it here. Just Google “wisdom and aging” to find gems like one in the New York Times, where one writer followed the lives of six 85-year-olds, for a year, and found that “old age is a mixture of happiness and sadness, with less time wasted on anger and worry.” Or you might find an article from Psychology Today, interviewing a woman born the same year as the Russian Revolution. The article highlighted her advice on throwing a party and the one thing you should say to your partner every day.
I love thinking of aging as an art, as it can help in some rather trying circumstances. For example, I recently entered a large makeup/beauty store down south. It was full of brands and what looked like intriguing things for experimentation. But I was ignored as I wandered through the aisles looking for assistance from several idle sales attendants. Now, it could be that the attendants took one look at me and decided that no amount of makeup or lotions could help. I had a lot of fun—and time—to indulge in this art of being “invisible.”
On the flip side, there is the art of visibility (connection is a better word). Through the privilege of time, I can become more visible to my family and friends. I can use my skills and donate time to help keep our community a great place to live, and perhaps make it a little bit better.
The art of living for today is one that I am not good at. I have a hard time just sitting and thinking, or relaxing, while reading a trashy book or enduring the constraints from some medical conditions. An old friend of mine used to say, “We are human beings, not human doings”—and I am working on just being.
Finally, there is an art to appreciating the joy of life in the Yukon. The return of sunshine and long days—maybe even some heat, but not too much; the beauty of our scenery; the warmth of our community. The list is wonderfully long. Maybe Robert Browning put it best: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.”