Still in the Game---And Why Not?
by Kathryn Grody
It was the kind of March weather where you promise yourself that no matter what, you will not complain about any kind of summer heat. I had just finished a 40 minute precor aerobic workout, followed by a true 20 minutes of floor work for the core as it twere, and feeling incredibly fit and therefore young or at the very least, ageless, I zipped up my down coat, and raced to the subway where I managed to just bravely squeeze thru the already closing doors…I stood, holding onto the available pole with one hand reading my New Yorker with the other, and smiled at the young woman who bounded up in front of me..thinking, wow, nice, a young person who notices someone elderly…and looking around for whom she was offering her seat to, I realized with serious shock and horror…..that she was standing for me!!!
“Do I look like I need a friggin seat?? I hissed at her..”I just came from a serious workout at the friggin gym!!”
“I’m so sorry,” the poor shaken thing said…”I’m not from here, I was raised to be nice to…..”
“OLD PEOPLE??!!” I shrieked, finishing her sentence..
“yes..no, I ‘m so sorry I didn’t mean to,…”
“No, please, please,” my more rational self explained.. “ I am being a major jerk, I apologize to you, sincerely, but let me explain…I am a baby boomer. We thought if we worked out, took our supplements and had a different attitude, this aging thing, would not apply to us…and when we look in the mirror, we clearly do not see what you see, so just be careful to whom you kindly offer a seat..”
At least I am not alone in my dismay and confusion. I think my entire generation is in deep shock at the reality of this aging thing..how could this possibly apply to us? The crew that coined the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra? That gave birth to health foods and embraced running shoes? That believed if you moved continuously and exercised vigorously and ate organically and ommmmed deeply on a daily basis, this notion of time marching on would simply not apply to us…Talk about exceptionalism! And now that reality seems to affirm that it actually does, we are not handling it well…Instead of finding new, creative ways to be empowered by our years, aesthetically and experientially, we are all on our backs, begging for botox.(Which according to a new study, not only makes you look as though you are not feeling anything, but those muscles that you have chosen to freeze actually do prevent your brain from getting the signals it needs to seriously experience the emotion coming your way.)
On too many mornings I find myself on this precipice, higher than the Himalaya. I am right on the ridge, prone, hanging on to every available crevice, knowing I have to find a way off the edge but…when I look to my left, I see the topography of my last 20 years, from 40 to 60, in bold relief, I see all of it. The babies and the raising of them and the school days and kitchen endlessness and the writing and the not writing and the work and the praise and rejection and the Passovers and birthdays, crepe paper and dog hair and job charts...our sweaty wedding and the giant furies and the making up and the water fights and the home building and the home leaving and the expectations and the disappointments and the rich, passionalte thick amount of living that carved all those paths thru my particular landscape of evergreens, cacti, blueberry bushes and peonies. I can look to my left and see all those paths that lead to true glory and weedy regret. But when I look to my right, all I seem to be able to see is that it is a long way down to the other side of the next 20 years, if I’m lucky. In that same amount of time, between 40 and 60, it will be between 60 and 80 and that truth just makes me unable to move, to recognize a clearing or desirable path..
And then I think, f--- (yea, we also were the generation that overused that word) this vision of fear and paralysis. You can be timid when you’re 20 and bold when you’re 90..It will take the same daring, the same kind of courage and invention and outside the box thinking that we used to stop a war, pass civil rights, re-invent feminism and make brave new choices. Who else is going to radicalize the notion of what aging can mean, but us? Our much admired, equally maligned generation of boomers, that’s who. This is, after all, a universal trip, and why not redefine it as boldly as we did marriage and sex and making family. It is a very radical notion in our youth obsessed culture, to decide to be an assertive elder, and not a passive senior..
Of course this notion means I have to stop being shocked when I am with a group of people in their 20’s and 30’s, and they tell me how good it is to be able to talk to someone older. I can’t look over my shoulder to see who they mean.They mean me, damn right..
It also means I have to stop defining myself by saying I’m a “60’s person,” because that implies the end of the story and I am determined to be a work in progress. I want to surprise my husband, my sons, my friends and most of all myself. I want to learn how to plant a perennial garden, learn a language, let go of learning to cook, perhaps let go of my old theatrical passion and discover a brand new one. Make some kind of daily difference, live to see a grandchild or two, if not rock climb with them..
So when my sons ask how I am, instead of answering “still here, still breathing.” I will try to answer them by launching myself off this precipice. I hope to be able to dance my way to the bottom, but if I need to slide on my more ample bottom, I will and if I need a walking stick I’ll pick one bedecked by jewels or macramé…I want to keep the option of possibility and even surprise going, and if I were in charge, I would transition from this life mid sentence, continuing the conversation about all kinds of moving on.