Column by Nan Russell
Spoken like a seasoned life traveler, the words from my 3-year-old granddaughter came as an assumptive statement of fact following our shopping excursion. “I don’t like old people,” she told me. “Well, I’m old and you like me,” I said. “No Nana, I don’t like old people.” I know what she means. I don’t like old people much either.
I’ve been giving that word, “old,” particular thought of late. While this month marks the beginning of a new decade, it also heralds for me a new age bracket. Yet after months of self-reflection, I’ve concluded the word has little relationship to my chronological age.
Recently, a business acquaintance was telling me about his mother, who unbeknownst to him is the same age as me. He said his mother declared she was tired of learning and couldn’t keep up with the new technology. He was concerned that she was choosing aging over changing, at a time when her life expectancy remained decades long.
Tucked inside any generational label: Matures, Baby Boomers, GenXers, or Millennials, you’ll find old people: old thinking, old acting, old being. These people age without evolving, persist without reflecting, and take more from life than they give.
I don’t want to be old. But it’s not some Peter Pan fantasy of my body not aging or wrinkles not deepening or grey hair not sprouting. It’s a declaration of intention to keep a zest for life, an openness to adventure, and a spirit of gratitude.
I used to think it was enough to understand evolving and aging as separate concepts, and to choose the first. I used to feel that welcoming each passing year as a gift denied to many was enough to provide clarity, as each milestone reaffirmed a finiteness to one’s life. And I used to believe that we grew old when we gave up our dreams and it was enough to keep pursuing them, but some dreams expire and should be given up or changed.
When people say they want to live to be a hundred, I silently pause. I used to think longer was better, too, until my father died of Alzheimer’s, and dementia has my mother living in a parallel universe devoid of joy. So in the scheme of things, I’ve come to realize in six decades that growing old and growing older is a lot more complicated than any pithy bumper sticker philosophy. Still my granddaughter was instrumental in helping me articulate mine.
In December when my granddaughter turned 3, the weeks leading up to her birthday were filled with a game she called, “Let’s Play Birthday.” She’d name whose birthday she wanted to celebrate and we’d wrap pretend presents, wiggle to music, and add an imaginary scoop of love to make-believe cupcakes. “That’s too much love,” she’d tell me every time I decided to add an extra scoop.
But that’s what I do know about getting older, (not old), and celebrating life’s birthdays. Give those extra scoops along the way, because there can never be too much love.