You are not a problem.
Well, OK, you may be a “problem” in some ways at some times depending upon what you do or don’t do and how well you do or don’t do it and how whatever it is that you did or didn’t do effects other people who are around you, but you – Just you! – Are not a problem.
Reassuring, isn’t it? Let me back up.
I started out to start out this column by saying something like, “I just want to talk to older people…” when I realized that “older people” are non-existent – There’s no such thing. Older than what? Older than who? Almost everybody is older than somebody, so what does that even mean?
And if you ask “older people” who “older people” (“seniors,” “Elders,” whatever term you like) are, they’ll tell you that they are people who are older than them. I’ve had folks in their 90’s tell me that they had no intention of going to a “senior center” because those are for “old people.”
Now, while I happen to think that observation severely misunderstands what goes on at senior centers, that really isn’t the point. The point is that most of us don’t think of ourselves as “older people” – We think of ourselves as “people.” How…interesting.
We are constantly hearing about how much Medicare costs and how much Social Security costs and how much Medicaid costs and healthcare and long-term care and the shortage of caregivers and how to support caregivers who are supporting older people (whoever they are) and how to survive retirement and how to keep “Mom” safe and driving and prescription drugs and nutrition and dementia and the spiraling costs of Alzheimer’s and the impact on the families and the costs of all these costs and…Problems that need to be solved!
When did we become a “problem?” And when, exactly, did aging become a problem?
I could easily provide us with similar lists about pre-schoolers and kids and teenagers and young adults and middle-aged, family types and…Right: Life is full of “problems;” sure, the types and the solutions might change (and they might not), but the fact remains that “problems” aren’t peculiar to “aging” (well, OK, I can think of a few peculiar problems, but we won’t go there today).
Aging is not a problem that needs to be solved – It’s a phase, an opportunity and a universal experience unless, of course, you’re never given the opportunity to experience that phase, which is an option that few of us rush to embrace; thus, if you aren’t dead, “aging” is a universal experience, so why do we need to “solve” a universal experience?
We don’t; but, apparently, a lot of people think we do, so they invent “programs” – And what do we all know about “programs?” Right: “Programs” are for people who need “help,” and since I don’t think of myself as someone who needs “help,” I don’t partake of said “programs” and, besides, I’m not an “older person,” anyway, so none of this has anything to do with me, right? Then, why do I feel vaguely guilty, or “less than…?” Like, there’s something wrong with me?
Because we (the big “WE” – The US of A “we” – The most-of-the-industrialized-world “we”) talk and act like aging is a problem. Then we wonder why “older people” don’t rush to our “programs” to get the “help” they so OBVIOUSLY need.
I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “That’s very interesting, Harvey, coming from a guy who goes on about ‘help’ and ‘programs’ all the **** time…” I know. You’re right. Here’s my answer: Because I have a peculiar (there’s that word again) ability to talk out of both sides of my mouth, at the same time! – Which probably deserves a modicum of explanation.
I want people to live – To be as happy and healthy and productive and “fulfilled” (whatever we might decide that means) as possible and, sometimes, “programs” are the best way to help people do that – Well, OK, sometimes they’re the only way – We work with what we have. But that’s a very different matter from acting as though people are a problem, just because they aren’t dead.
The fact is that if there were no people, there would be no problems! Well, OK, the occasional Ice Age or meteor or solar flame-out might provide a random degree of galactic-level entertainment, but mostly…No people, no problems!
But since we have people, we have problems – Oops; so, unless we plan to dispense with people altogether (which seems universally and terrestrially unlikely), we’d better get used to it; THUS, people are not THE problem.
And aging is not a problem that needs to be solved.
If it were up to me (and many of us should be darned glad it isn’t), I’d draft “older people” into some kind of local/national/planetary “service” to help keep this whole “life thing” from spiraling out of control! In other words, I wouldn’t see aging as a problem that needed to be solved – I’d see it as an opportunity that needed to be exploited! But, don’t worry – My level of influence is rather severely…contained.
Allow me to attempt to summarize this admittedly fractured treatise: I think we ought to “normalize” aging, because…it’s NORMAL! It isn’t a problem, a curse or a societal liability. It’s a blessing, an opportunity and an inherent phase of this funny thing called “life,” so run with it! Learn from it! Don’t dodge it – Whack it head-on! It’s a natural part of the ride, so ride it out!
Because you are not a problem.
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.