Wednesday, January 11, 2012
advanced old age. This is a very human and understandable desire and I hope they do, too.
But we must be very careful what we wish for.
Living a long life is rewarding and a cause for great gratitude. But there are downsides.
When people visualize themselves living beyond the average age of most of their peers, they see themselves as relatively healthy, relatively free from financial worries and relatively happy. Sadly, this is not always the case. I have never seen the advantage in outliving your resources or suffering through health problems and loneliness. Quality is surely the thing, not just quantity.
One of the saddest things about old age is the loss of those we have loved. In my case, I am the last surviving member of my generation on my father's side and on my mother's side, only four cousins remain, all well into their 80's. Being the last man standing is not always much fun. It means the loss of your parents, your siblings and other cherished relatives, and all your beloved friends. This last summer, my two oldest and dearest friends left me. One avidly followed Tiger Woods and the SF Giants through their triumphs and failures and kept a lively email correspondence going. ( She never quite got the hang of Facebook.) She went on a shopping spree for her summer wardrobe a few weeks before she died. She was 98 years old. The other, one of the most special people I ever knew, suffered from blindness, ill health and dementia for several years before her death at 96. Both left holes in my heart that can never be repaired.
Given the premise....and without these conditions you do NOT want to live to an advanced old age....but given the premise that the health problems you have accumulated over the years are manageable and that your brain is in reasonably good shape....there are of course, wonderful pluses to getting old, as well.
I was quite well along before my grandchildren were born, 64 before the first one and 75 before the last one came along. If I had moved on in my 80's, like many people, I would not have seen them evolve from adorable babies to the fine young men and women that they have become. Full of promise. Bright. Loving. Good-looking? Oh, my! I have lived to see the first black president of the United States and if I hang on long enough, maybe I will see our first woman president! (Or maybe not. I don't want to live forever.) I have seen many fabulous advances in medicine and science and technology. I have learned to use a computer. All exciting stuff and well worth living long for.
Of course, living into the 90's is not really much of an achievement anymore. The age-span has gotten increasingly longer and if society holds together, it will get longer still. I saw a picture of a lovely lady in our local paper last month whom I took to be in her 80's, maybe. Reading the caption, it turned out she was celebrating her 102nd birthday!
I think the thing that we all wish for is not so much a long, long life as one filled with joy, achievement and satisfaction. If the added years come with it, all the better. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is not the length of life but the depth of life."