Do We Need A New Spin On Getting Old?
So here's my first question: Who branded aging as a "burden" in the first place? Did this concept sneak out of Leo Burnett while we all had our eyes focused on the eternally youthful Tony the Tiger? Was it the brainchild of a bunch of copywriters on Madison Avenue desperately needing a tagline after weeks of launching paper airplanes into the circular file? Or is it the fault of crusty city editors barking at their hapless reporters to "pound the pavement and get me one of those 'granny in the rocking chair' thumb suckers!"
I know it's not the American Association of Retired Persons. Our household has been getting its publications for a while now (multiple copies, in fact; no wonder the circ figures are astronomical) and it's always featuring vibrant creatures who jog a few miles at dawn, eat unadulterated fruit salad for lunch, and wear their wisdom the way Aunt Millie used to wear her pearls in the evening. Take the "sexy sassy rebirth of Valerie Bertinelli" for starters.
But even if we agree that aging needs to be "rebranded," how exactly do we go about doing this? If I may say one thing about this Baby Boomer generation of ours, it is the most perverse, argumentative -- dare I say it ... contumacious -- group of unherdable cats ever to occupy a demographical cohort. In short, nobody's going to tell us to do nuttin'.
That said, when I look around me, there are a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of things to stay young in body, mind and spirit.
One of my best friends, who recently "mostly" retired as an accomplished practicing attorney, tells me that his new career, at age 70, is to latch on with a team capable of winning the 70-plus basketball competition at the National Senior Games. He's been playing in the same serious pickup game in New York City for 40 years (Phil Jackson used to drop in), and is also on the roster of two softball teams in season, but that isn't stopping him from seriously stepping up his aerobic and resistance training after reading the book Younger Next Year.
And at a gathering last night I listened to three women in their 50s and 60s talk about all the incredible, college-level classes their parents were attending in their respective retirement communities.
One of the sharpest wits I know, in fact, is 94 years old. Despite painful arthritis, she loves to walk a trail that she was doing maintenance work on until just a few years ago. And even though she needs a magnifying glass to read the newspaper, you'd feel woefully uniformed if she was the type to call attention to her knowledge of current events (but she's not).
I understand the motives of the ICAA, which is based in Vancouver, B.C., and says its membership consists of more than 8,200 organizations that manage, own or operate 40,000-plus locations in 37 countries. Its very mission is to connect "like-minded professionals who share the goals of changing society's perceptions of aging and improving the quality of life for aging Baby Boomers and older adults within the seven dimensions of wellness (emotional, vocational, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, environmental)."
I'm all for that. Language is powerful, and it's easy to slip into negative stereotypes. But there's nothing quite as convincing as creaky joints, winded lungs and easily fatigued muscles to convince us that we are, indeed, getting old.
And you can't "brand" everything. To change the world, sometimes you just need to go about your business and let other people write the stories they see. In the end, it has nothing to do with slogans, or some assignment editor's cockamamie notions of a trend. Given our genetics and fortune in avoiding injuries and illness, aging is, in fact, a story we each write for ourselves.