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On Aging Gracefully (and other lies we’ve been told)

Manic in Manila

Recently, I turned 49 (good Lord, where has the time gone?). A few days before that my 97-year-old grandmother, Mamita Pat, took her last breath on earth. She was a strong, stubborn, fiery woman, and though her last months were fraught with pain and suffering (on account of inoperable melanoma), she fought the good fight ‘til the end. Heck, her doctors gave her a few months to live, upon diagnosis. She defied them all and lived for two years after that. That’s just the way she lived her close to 10 decades – and that’s the way she chose to go out, as well. Had she not been stricken with illness, she would have carried on in her usual, indefatigable manner, living life to the hilt.

These recent events have me thinking of a term we have all heard, countless times. A phrase with which you become very well-acquainted when you “push a certain age.” AGING GRACEFULLY.

Whatever.

I will admit, I am not a fan of the phrase. I am not a fan of the implications of those two words, joined together. To my mind (and this could just be me being paranoid) the term implies a certain bowing out of the game of life; a quiet, gentle exit that is expected of more mature people. It connotes a defeatist mentality. Like aging is something we unquestioningly accept with the virtue of ten saints or the diplomacy of Switzerland.

Tale as old as time

True – aging is inevitable; though the quest for unending youthfulness is as classic as it gets. Literature dating back to the 5th century BC, in the writings of Herodotus, chronicle the search for the elusive, legendary Fountain of Youth. Furthermore, this theme is a universal one, and is recurrent in literature, art, and mythical accounts from across the globe.

From Oscar Wilde’s literary character Dorian Gray to historical Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and his journey to the mythical land of Bimini (supposedly to find the fountain), there are countless examples that clue is in: the quest is real.

Note, I never said the Fountain of Youth was real – if it is and if you’ve found it, hit me up! The desire to find it, however, is as palpable as the distaste most of us have for growing old (that is, if we are honest enough to admit it!).

In fact, to date, thousands of tourists still visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in Florida (where the explorer actually landed, on his search for Bimini) to drink from its waters (ok, that’s kind of eeewwwwy!).

Rage against!

While aging is inevitable, we do not have to accept it with a defeatist mindset. My Mamita Pat certainly showed me that you can – and should – stay strong, until the end! She worked up until almost her very last days on earth – because she had to, yes, but also because she wanted to. In this day and age of social media and online everything, far too much emphasis is placed on youth and external beauty – so much so that young people feel like they can no longer live up to ”the standard” (but that’s another discussion entirely), and older people feel like yesterday’s trash out on the curb. The Cult of Personality has become younger than ever, on a silver-lined cloud all on its own, and generations are suffering for it.

I have had many chats with colleagues who, at the age of 30, feel “OLD!” Seriously??? That is what it has all come to. Especially here in the Philippines, which, ironically enough, despite cultural respect for “one’s elders” also has many cultural biases against more mature individuals. Have you tried looking through the classifieds? Anyone past 35 is put out to pasture; taken out of the equation so that they can knit a scarf in some corner, as they age gracefully.

I say, ENOUGH. Rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas would say. Take care of your health. Feed your mind. Stay relevant. You do not need a Fountain of Youth to cultivate youthfulness within you. Your inner child is not dead – you may have buried him or her alive, though, so get your shovels ready and dig him or her up!

I am not aging gracefully. No way; forget it. I am going down swinging. Join me, anyone?

 

By ANGIE DUARTE

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