By Mary Louise Van Dyke

© 2015 All rights reserved

I have come to the conclusion that defining ourselves by our age is limiting.

Oh don’t get me wrong – age matters. I recall when I was 9 and waiting oh so eagerly for the 10th birthday and having two digits in my age! What a milestone that was.

Age brings new freedoms. At age 18 teenagers are emancipated from having to answer to their parents and being free to live on their own. The 21st birthday is often wildly celebrated with going out for drinks – and drinks and drinks.

Retirement at age 65 is an achievement eagerly anticipated by people who are weary of the daily grind of work and home and work and home. That number will change in coming years as Social security bumps up the start of full benefits age.

But age. As a label, its not all that – and I don’t think it should be revered as an absolute. I hate to think of being aged out of doing what I love to do.

I’m thinking of my grandfather, the one I had the privilege of being close to, even in my 40’s. He saw me from babyhood to the beginning of the peanut butter years, something I define as the middle the middle, chunky layer of life. Our relationship was definitely enriched by that ongoing connection.

Grandpa demonstrated the importance of keeping on and not defining ones self by whatever two digit number of years one has accumulated. He wasn’t the type to say oh I’m old, I can’t possibly learn about computers or subject A or B.

I hear people say they are “too old” and I think “why?” Really?

Grandpa’s best golf game of his later years occurred when he was 89 or 90, when he beat my uncle’s score. Now uncle was not pleased and refused to ever go golfing with Grandpa again. A shame – but the bottom line is Grandpa got out there and golfed. Grew juicy, fresh tomatoes in pots on his porch and made bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches for lunch. He walked at the mall doing a mile or two per day several days a week until severe back spasms ended that pastime when he was in his 90’s.

And computers – yes, he purchased a computer and a digital camera and dove into learning how to use both when he was in his late 80’s.

My grandpa.

Not a saint to be sure. He growled and seemed withdrawn the last time I saw him. By then he was living with his oldest daughter and her husband, and he seemed as if he was afraid my visit was disturbing their routine. Or maybe he didn’t want me to see how shrunken he was.

I failed to ask the why, and the question remains unanswered.

My joy at seeing him kept flickering during the rest of the short meeting. I had flown hundreds of miles to see him a final time. These moments were precious and he was growling at me that I wasn’t operating the video camera correctly.

But he loved me – and I realized after the hurt softened, that nothing had changed. Possibly the reason was his weakness and needing to live dependent on others, instead of being in his own home.

He is my role model – my hope for a full life into my 90’s. I recall hearing him talk about an older sister who kept on bowling until she was in her early 90’s. Genetics are strong there, what a blessing.

But does it matter when the genetics aren’t as viable for seeing a person into the 80’s or 90’s. Should there be arbitrary lines of when a person is deemed a senior citizen? Nowadays, people in their mid-50’s are evidently labeled senior citizens and offered discounts at restaurants. I still haven’t forgotten my 55 birthday and Mom offering to take me out for lunch, provided I would order from the senior citizen menu. I declined.

Why accept these discounts unless one is financially challenged? Why accept a label of “you’re old?”

Why?

I am learning continuously in this chapter of being a full-time student. Yep, I’m at the upper end of the student body in age – we have 16 year olds up to silver haired retired folk.

Knowledge soaking into the brain, rounding me out better, sharpening, honing, helping me see the world in more definite shades, and yet knowing that there is so much more to know. A lifetime of learning. Not stopping.

I can’t be one of the individuals who muttering excuses of I’m such and such an age and I don’t have to learn a darned thing if I don’t want to!

If that’s their decision for themselves, then it’s a decision. After a lifetime of pushing hard to meet work requirements, family needs, personal goals – I understand where these individuals are coming from.

However, I hope it would be a temporary frame of mind. Not long term. That they would refuse to identify themselves by age, wouldn’t swathe themselves in a cloak of elderliness, would think that there’s another adventure out there somewhere. And get excited again about living.”

I recall meeting an elderly woman once who told me, “As long as you have joy in your life, you will stay alive. Lose that joy, you die.”

One life – move through it, don’t age out and hold tight to joy.

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