Here one minute, gone the next what a strange feeling. Yesterday I was sixty something and the world still validated my existence. “Gee, you look great for your age,” whatever that means.
Today I’m 70. How does anyone know that? Does is seep through my pores? Now, if I’m called anything at all it’s “sweetie or dearie” by a grocery clerk no less. Do they know me well enough to use such endearing terms?
I had a vision that with age came wisdom and that wisdom warranted respect, deference and the recognition of a wealth of life experience. To my dismay and obvious naïveté, our present culture says “ooops, go to the back of the line, youth comes first.”
We relish, bathe in and worship glamour, perfect shapes, up-talk and over-drive, “what do you do and how fast can you do it."
The spa is the new house of worship. Here you get to lift it, tuck it, and pamper it. The God of youth holds us hostage so we must stay skinny, hide the wrinkles, plump the lips and let it all hang out of that low cut top and low slung pants.
It seems as if we are a society so fearful of death and dying that we turn our backs on the aging process and the wealth of knowledge that can be culled from the “elder,” or a term I’ve coined, the “masters.” People 70+ have mastered so many challenges or they wouldn’t be here. With a sophomoric arrogance, we assume that youth is the answer. But what is the question?
Enthusiasm, idealism, energy and vitality are wonderfully desirable attributes that do not necessarily atrophy with age. Yet our culture perceives that they do. Think of the terms we use, “over the hill,” “end of the line.” These are damaging and artificial suppositions.
We look at older people without seeing them, without listening and without attending. The “masters” are rapidly becoming a majority in our population. So the question becomes how do we reeducate our culture to recognize value of life and death as a natural process where every stage is essential? How do we reeducate the culture to pay attention to the “master’s” vital contribution to the world we share? How do we instill respect and deference again? How do the invisibles become visible?
You might hope it begins at home or in school. But my guess is that the media, including the internet, is really the strongest influence. So let’s “alert the media.” Maybe there’s an opportunity for a new publication, “The Masters,” that runs stories about people 70+. It’s such fertile soil! Or how about “The Intergenerational,” a publication that spans the generations and calls attention to the issue of life stages?
There’s a huge market for advertisers of health products, fashion, real estate, travel and so on. Imagine a newspaper column called “Master-full,” or “Elder-Wise,” or “The Fruits of Our Labor.” There’s money to be made while educating the public.
I find myself, an accomplished woman by societal standards: doctor, presenter, professor, reaching in other directions. Those goals have been attained and new vistas are opening-not by design but by desire. Suddenly art is flowing through my fingers, music pours into my head and new songs emerge. Creative roles of every kind fill my mind and find expression in expanding relationships and I’m at a new level of creative burst. As I speak with other “masters” I hear enthusiastic resonating responses.
TV, the grand dame of persuasion must be charged with developing a trend towards intergenerational programming and programming that appeals to the master generation. The term “seniors,” has taken on a false identity. Perhaps it might authentically be applied to 90+. We clearly need some reevaluation of terms.
The trend setters—Oprah, DeGeneres, Letterman, Walters, and King are those who can OPEN the doors. As Arthur Miller said in “Death of a Salesman,” “attention must be paid and in this case to the contribution the masters generation brings to our culture. And in so doing, begin a process that looks at life stages as a normal progression from birth to death, treasuring each sage and living life to the fullest. I’m reminded of a song, “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die…..I’m gonna spread my wings and do a thousand things, I’m gonna live, live, live until I die.”
By avoiding the absolute, that we all die, we are unconsciously gripped by fear of endings. Since we have little or no preparations, understanding or acceptance, we just hurry on to the next project or leave things hanging. Think of how we end a phone conversation “talk to you later” when later may be days away till the next contact. Or “see ya” and so on. We do ourselves a great disservice when we don’t learn how to say good-bye and make peace with endings. Instead we deny, accumulate possessions and run from the inevitable.
I suggest we take a lesson from the Native American and Asian Cultures and their capacity to respect, cherish and release their elders when the time comes.
Let each of us be empowered to walk with dignity and live in integrity throughout the span of our lifetime. Let us all be visible.
— — —
Written by Natalie Winters, PhD