In my recent period of rest and recreation I’ve had plenty of time to think about the topic of ageing, mostly because I get a sense in so many comments about ageing that too often you’re not supposed to age. I did dither about writing this as my views may be contentious but, what the heck, “have at ’em”, as the saying goes!
I see images of older women in whacky outfits, self-conscious comments about staying young, women in amazingly stylish clothes which look like damned hard work, older women in extraordinary yoga poses, climbing mountains, whatever. Often it’s “Oooeer, look at that oldie being so young” in admiring terms which we don’t hear about senior citizens quietly getting on with life in unremarkable ways.
It’s as if, all too often, in an effort to remain bright and breezy about ageing, we’re supposed to stay forever young, able to do tricks, somersaults and backflips until we finally pop our clogs.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for ageing disgracefully and I enjoy my purple hair, purple clothing and bling jewellery. BUT I’m also all for recognising that there’s an ageing process which isn’t about turning circus tricks and showing how young we can look, it’s about honouring the wisdom that comes with old age, the grace which accompanies us as our bodies get inevitably older and being respectful of the wrinkles, grey hair, loose skin, aches and pains – not the imperfections of old age, but the perfection of respecting that our bodies do age and we still need to love, honour and nourish ourselves without pressure to look younger or deny the ageing process.
We seniors and elders need to show our visibility because in Western society youth is worshipped and old people are invisible (unless of course they can be sourced as a consumer, ie, insurance, mobility aids, and so on) and sectioned off into care homes, retirement villages or hostels unless we are part of the awkward squad who stay at home and then need community support which, in this day and age, is handed out grudgingly and in ever decreasing service provision.
But visibility doesn’t mean artificial youth, it means being recognised as fully functioning members of society who deserve respect and attention as much as younger people. I’d like to include “wisdom” except too often I see old people demanding their dues in a very selfish way – wisdom and respect are earned not grabbed through guilting people.
So if you’re wondering what the “U” shape is about – the conventional wisdom is that we come into this world, grow into adults and then decline into old age. However, I read a revised version of this: that we come into this world with a deep connection to the invisible, to Divinity, to Spirit, to God – whatever floats your boat. But that connection fades and we decline as we get older, grow up, get sucked into the material world, get a job, get married or move in with someone, have children perhaps, buy a house/boat/car, and so on (although material security is far less certain these days).
But as you get older, your values can change and you can re-connect to the unseen realms which tend to get obscured in our material society. And so you have the downward part of the “U” which is where we head away from spiritual wisdom (at least many of us do, some challenge this journey with their spiritual work, of course), while the upward part of the “U” represents our return to a spiritual awareness, a connection with the Unseen, a growing understanding that age is actually not a decline but an upward march of our spirit and souls towards divine wisdom.