This blog post is philosophical rather than scientific in its thrust, having to do with what successful aging consists of, including successful passing away. Aging offers certain benefits – as long as you don’t age so much that you get sick. A Google search on “joy of aging” reveals 616,000 entries ranging from inspirational stories, social groups, cartoons, jokes, poems and personal stories. I share a few of those items here and what I think they are ultimately about.
First of all, there is the idea that if you are healthy and have a healthy positive outlook you can enjoy normal aging and the benefits it brings. One joy is celebrating very long and deep relationships with friends, relatives and mates. I know this kind of joy because I have at least one friendship that goes back 70 years and I have known my stepmother Ann that long too. And I am close to my ex-wives going back to 1950s although I have known my splendid current wife for only 40 years. And I look forward someday to playing with great-great grandchildren and being the elder in a family of seven simultaneous generations.
There are many more benefits to healthy aging and an important one is accumulation of knowledge and wisdom that can be passed back to help younger folks live their lives. Today we have the concept of Saging. “SAGING, While Aging — The last decades are for Elders to reap the harvest of their days, their wisdom. Street corner wisdom says, “Old Age is not for sissies!” but does not tell us what Old Age is for. The Conscious Aging movement declares: old age is the season for Elders to review their lives, name lessons learned, gather the fruit of their days. Old Age is for Harvesting a Lifetime: a time to reclaim and preserve the wisdom of the ages, nurture visions of how life and love may thrive, master inner disciplines for healing wounds which cripple the future.” Of course Saging is an option, one I have chosen. Other older people can choose instead to become grumpy, shut down, or pretend that they in fact not aging (something I have been accused of). The importance of Saging is stressed in some organizations in the Men’s Movement, for example in the programs of the Mankind Project. The idea is to restore some of the traditions and ceremonies that throughout history and before history was written honored wisdom and saw that it is passed from generation to generation. See Wisdom of the ages: From elderly to elder – A guide for fathers and sons.
Of course there is the Joy of Aging book. “The book has the same size, feel and illustrated mini-encyclopedia format as the author’s last two manuals, The Joy of Sex and More Joy of Sex. But this time British Author Alex Comfort, 56, is trying for a pop bestseller on old age, not sexual hydraulics. A Good Age (Crown; $9.95) is Comfort’s attack on “agism”—prejudice against the elderly, which he considers society’s most stupid bias. After all, the elderly are the only outcast group that everyone eventually expects to join.” I wonder if the Author’s name were Alex Incontinence instead of Alex Comfort whether he would still be able to sell the book.
Many sites like this one and this one offer a positive Christian perspective on growing old. A few sites like this one are deeply philosophical in nature. This site offers poetry on aging. I thought this entry might speak to some of my readers:
|VitaminsIf there are others out there
who also take twenty-three
pills at a time four times
every day, please contact me
through the personals. We can
help each other force them down.
I will say they are tiny sandbags
keeping things on course. Youll reply
they are the flow itself, the tao.
We will look shyly at each other.
We will start to kiss. Together
we will feel them ooze and sidle
in teams through the digestive
tract like synchronized swimmers.
Who else will know your insides
like me? The warm flush of waves
when that orange horse pill hits
the blood like a boulder. The fizz
of cartilage holding itself together
for another six hours. Time release
capsules for dry bones, bleached
desert rats gulping down canteen
after canteen. What couple could
have more in common than a continual
dissolving? I am a young seventy-nine.
Looking for a minumum taker of sixty
pills daily. Call me if you want
to twist some tops off. Lets rattle
the bottles till they´re gone. Smokers okay.James Doyle
The Google Joy of aging citations include lots of blog entries like this one, and this one, often offering personal narratives on aging. Many sites besides the religious ones offer inspirational advice, like the Twelve Secrets to Anti-Aging — e-book by Lynn A. Anderson, Ph.D., N.D. and this site.
Underneath all the verbiage and positive thoughts about growing old, there is another theme, one of ravages and sicknesses of old age and sadness over loss of functionality. Growing old and Saging may be noble but it is no fun if you are undergoing a leg amputation due to diabetes or your hair is falling out and you can’t hold food down because of chemotherapy, or when you are out with friends and have to empty your colostomy bag. A number of videos offer songs and jokes old people tell on each other like . The words of the song at the end of the video tell this bittersweet message, sung to the tune of Camptown Racetrack.
Grandma’s got a brand new hip, Do dah, do dah, She has collagen for a lip, Oh do dah, do dah day,G rowing old is fun, It sure beats staying young. I can’t find my IRA, Oh, do dah day.Grandpa had his knees replaced, Do dah, do dah, He has wrinkles for a face, Oh, do dah day.Growing old is fun, It sure beats staying young. I can’t remember yesterday, Oh, do dah day. I’ll tell you sumptin that’s even worse I don’t remember the first verse, Oh, do dah day Do dah, do dah, Growing old is fun, It sure beats staying young.
This bittersweet theme runs deep in the “Joy of aging” Google citations. From a Christian Bible site, “One story my wife and I both enjoy is about an elderly couple who was driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going, and I’ll try to remember who we are.” “My wild oats have turned into prunes and oat bran.” And nowhere are the ravages of old age more vividly portrayed than in the thousands of cartoons and jokes about old people kicking around the Internet(ref)(ref)(ref)(ref). A lot of these are quite clever. Advantages of growing old include(ref): · “Your eyes won’t get much worse, · Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off, · Kidnappers are not very interested in you, and · In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.” So, there is both a joy and sadness to aging. Here are some of my own thoughts:
- I have not thought much about immortality: the idea of “live long enough and you can live forever” which contemplates a future time when a human life might be continued in an “immortal” machine environment. I see that idea as more of a fantasy than as possible reality for the next fifty years at least and will think about it at a later time if and as it shows any hope of becoming real. For me right now, radical life extension means living for a few hundred years in our original bodies. And that is a huge reach in itself.
- Therefore, life extension, the thrust of this blog, will not get rid of aging, at least not very soon. It hopefully will postpone aging for a goodly amount but the grim reaper is still going to get all of us.
- The longer the life, the more the joys of life can be amplified. I will love to play Monopoly and have funfull intellectual discussions with my great-great grandchildren, to keep expanding my wisdom and its impact on the world, and perhaps even to see a better more-responsible world order.
- While some sickness may be inevitable towards the end of life the impact of increasing longevity should be in an increase of the ratio of good healthy years to sick old years. So, in the context of a good long healthy life, the sick unhealthy part at the end becomes less important.
- The ideal outcome of life extension would be adding a lot of good healthy years until death comes quickly without a lot of debilitating sickness – the “One-hoss shay” idea from the poem with that name by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The initial and final stanzas are:
“A Logical Story
Have you heard of the wonderful one-horse shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it–ah but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits,
Have you ever heard of that, I say?Seventeen hundred and fifty-five,
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, –
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,–lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will,–
Above or below, or within or without,–
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.
First of November, ‘Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
“Huddup!” said the parson.–Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday’s text,–
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the–Moses–was coming next.All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill,–
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n’-house clock–
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once,
All at once, and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.End of the wonderful one-boss shay.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.”
It seems that much of modern medicine is concerned with shoring up the weakest parts, so we could indeed end up with our bodies responding sort of like the one-hoss shay.
· Finally, there will continue to be the bittersweet human relationships, memories and thoughts near the end of life, the difficulty of saying goodbye which may become harder for people who live longer. So, I expect that aspect of the human condition will remain.