A few weeks back, I succumbed to my periodic need to climb up on a soapbox and clamor. In this particular instance, I clamored about the fact that “we” are not a “problem” — more specifically, that “aging” isn’t a “problem” that needs to be “solved.”
I managed to overstate the obvious by pointing out that aging is a natural part of this thing we call “life,” so why are we made to feel guilty or “less than,” simply because we haven’t died according to an outdated, actuarial schedule? Then, feeling sated for the moment, I moved on.
But some of you have actually considered my clamoring, so allow me to share parts of a letter I received, severely edited to avoid any possibility of identifying the writer, who isn’t a “problem.”
“I just finished reading your article … I am so-o-o glad I am not a ‘problem’, no matter how many people seem to find older people just that …
“I am a 77-year-old widow (mother of one … who certainly does consider me a ‘problem’). I have worked since the age of 12 in business fields and hospitals … have no diseases, take no medications …
“I have never felt I was a ‘problem’ or ‘abnormal’, although periodically have been condemned for receiving civil service retirement … on social security and receiving 2 survivor benefits from my late husband of 50 years and taking jobs away from unemployed locals, etc, etc, not to mention comments — ‘At YOUR AGE you should get some hobbies and stay at home or travel, although volunteering is acceptable AT YOUR AGE …’
“Your article says it all, Mr. Harvey…especially if you aren’t dead, ‘aging’ is a universal experience, so why do we need to ‘solve’ a universal experience? WHAT AN ENLIGHTENED POINT OF VIEW — although marketing it to the public is a different matter entirely — good luck with that…
“The common view of the public seems to be OLD PEOPLE ARE PROBLEMS, CURSES AND SOCIETAL LIABILITIES — and we are stuffed into OLD PEOPLE categories, no matter if we are still productive and viable or not.
“I endorse the idea that old age is a ‘blessing’, an opportunity and an inherent phase of this funny thing called ’life’, and for one, plan to and do ‘run with it and learn from it’, and avoid and definitely not listen to those putting down older people.
“You’re the greatest, Mr. Harvey — keep up the good work and keep your lovely articles coming — I enjoy them immensely …”
You’ll notice I didn’t edit out the “You’re the greatest, Mr. Harvey” part.
I thank this good lady for taking the time to write and give us all a little something to think about. I’ve read her letter several times and am still thinking about it. Here’s one thing I think:
“Aging” really is NOT the problem. The “problem” is that we’ve allowed our society and our culture to evolve into such a stupor that we can’t recognize an asset when we see one! In my humble, soapbox-inclined opinion, we (the collective “we”) need to back WAY up, until we can see this “aging thing” in some perspective, and realize that we’re not talking about “them” — we’re talking about “us.”
Elders are an unmined resource on an increasingly over-mined planet, and we might want to figure that out pretty soon. Since when did society and humanity not need all the help it could get? Most folks want to contribute and can, if allowed to. If allowed to step out of a box that they never chose to step into and remain cogs in the wheel that they’ve been cogs in, all of their lives.
That we’ve been cogs in, all of our lives.
And those of us who choose to act like “old people,” probably deserve what we get.
Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.