Aging is a fascinating process. I feel like I’m in a constant state of surprise. No matter what I had thought that it was going to be like… it somehow shows up as something completely different.
Although the aging process is continuous, the signs of aging seem to appear in stages. My first encounter with the body’s decline was in my late thirties when as a professional dancer I noticed that my ankles joints were feeling fragile, especially when landing jumps. That meant that it was time to retire from stage and focus on directing and teaching. It was also time to develop a physical training routine that could support the life of a dance teacher. You’d be surprised (or not) on how easy it is to injure yourself while teaching dance. There’s not always enough time to warm up our own bodies properly beforehand in order to execute clear physical demonstrations of the steps. I personally was no longer interested in the judgemental environment of the dance studio, so my physical routine shifted to the gym and eventually I entered the world of yoga to supplement that training.
Aging is to be put into the constant state of a beginner. How do you overcome this body weakness logically and safely, what can help this new ache, how do I reconnect this apparent physical disconnect? There is no end to the avenues of research, and I love that I am continuing to learn new things. Sometimes I wish that I knew then what I know now, but that’s how life goes and I’m happy that I can teach the next generation to be better than I was. I’m also aware that in terms of the big picture, I know absolutely nothing and I’m okay with that.
Now, not everything is roses in aging. I’m not thrilled with the wrinkles and thinning hair that bruise my ego and I do wish I could continue to wear my favourite earrings that no longer fit because the holes in my ears have collapsed due to disappearing collagen. But many years ago, I promised myself that I would age as authentically as I could as an example to the kids I work with. I find it sad that people feel the need to resort to surgery and invasive procedures to maintain a positive sense of self. Wouldn’t it be amazing if wrinkles and sags were embraced as the badges of honor that they are? They say, “I’ve lived a long life” and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. Many in my life haven’t made it this far and I still find that incredibly sad. I would have loved to have seen how they would have evolved as they aged. Would they have been just as outgoing and as crazy? What new interests would they have pursued? What adventures could we have embarked on together? Our lives are enriched by the people around us and each one that leaves, takes an irreplaceable part of our hearts.
The discrimination of the elderly is a real problem. There was a teacher/receptionist at one of the studios that I worked at who always treated me like a five-year-old child. If any of the other (and younger) teachers had told her there was a problem with the front desk computer, she would immediately have investigated it. If I told her, she would ask me if I had turned on the machine. She slowed down her speech and enunciated her words. I was given lessons on how to turn on the computer, how to turn up the lights in the practice room, how to use the credit card machine, how to turn on the sound system, etc. No matter was too trivial for her to school me in. It honestly took every bit of patience that I could muster, not to take her out. Think about it for a minute. How much stuff is in the head of a twenty-year-old versus a sixty-year-old? Yeah…exactly.
I have discovered a superpower in aging…invisibility. People either don’t see or they don’t take any notice of the elderly, which is fabulous! I can now slip through a crowded group of people hassle-free. What I wouldn’t have given to have that power when I was in my twenties and every outing was a running of the gauntlet through men’s obscene comments, gestures and touching. I no longer have to worry about being groped on public transit or having some man follow me down the street while shouting obscenities. Even the crazies on public transit leave me alone! On one afternoon trip, I got passed over by two men who stopped next to every single passenger in the train car. One was demanding money from everyone, and the other was describing in detail how great it felt to squeeze the life out of someone. They didn’t see me…hurray!
Why are so many people afraid of aging? I know that for me it’s the fear of being helpless and unable to care for myself. Do I have any solutions? Not yet, but I’m working on it…and one of those solutions might have to be acceptance.