Mel Walsh: It’s OK to reveal your age
I’m a little seasick. The horizon seems to be shifting. I know what it is, though – a sea change, a turn in the tide in how people think about aging. People used to think if they lived past 50, they were in heaven’s waiting room.
Do you remember that old view of aging? Adults in retirement are not worth much. They are empties to be discarded, geezers to be made fun of, losers glued to their bingo cards, good only for the booty they might pass on when they die. If they baby-sat the grandkids for free, their stock went up, but not very far. Basically, older people were over.
Actually, 100 years ago, many of them were literally over. The average age of death then was late 40s. Now we have better control of the epidemics that used to do us in along with a medical landscape that, for all its faults, keeps us going another 30 years.
Seeing the shift
Now have you had one of those moments – a flash that indicates you’re living in the middle of the age revolution? Have you had one of those moments when social change is made visible and I mean good visible – as though someone handed you an ice cream cone?
I had such a flash last week. I wrote a book encouraging people to think about getting older as a second wind, not the end of the good times. As part of a book tour, a TV interviewer asked me how old I was. In front of 6 million people, I said 71. I said 71 twice, which did not make me 142, but did make me the recipient of e-mails from all over the country.
Thanks, they said, for letting people know that older adults are not the living dead. Thanks for telling the truth about your age. It’s about time people are proud of their years and experience. Thanks for not lying, as though your years in the world are something to be ashamed of.
So that was one good moment for me, one shift in the social horizon – to tell the truth about age and not have a flock of morticians run toward me with their shovels.
Other good moments come when I see that a large number of volunteers in local nonprofit organizations were born in the 1930s, which means older people are not only useful, but critically so. These organizations might shrivel up and die if the older people in the community didn’t contribute time, money and smarts. The parks would be docentless, the grand jury room empty, the theaters would lose much of their live audience. The local classical music scene would shrink, leaving the world safe for hip hop but perilous for Ludwig Von Beethoven.
Other signs of the shift
Bob Barker, the TV personality, is still in the national spotlight in his 80s, and when he recently announced his retirement, he said no one told him to retire. He just wanted to do it while he was still on top of his game.
Top of your game in your 80s? It’s the age revolution.
And it’s happening to ordinary, noncelebrities, too. I’m not the only person who began a new career after 60. I meet store owners living out their retail dreams. I get e-mails from older people who have started new businesses rather than retire from the world. I recently interviewed a woman in her 80s who had her first book published this spring, by one of the major publishers in New York.
So life ain’t over ’til it’s over. Only dead is too late, and you and I aren’t there yet.
Words for the wise
If you want to check out this columnist’s truth-telling moment on CBS, do an Internet search using four words: Early Show Mel Walsh. Then scroll through the other books until you get to “Hot Granny.” Click on watch.
And maybe consider joining me, not only by telling how old you are, but by declaring you are proud of every single candle on your cake.
The author of four nonfiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh has a new book of advice for the 50+ woman: “Hot Granny,” published by Chronicle Books. Write firstname.lastname@example.org. More info at http://www.melwalsh.com.
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