How to grow old

I’ve read that people are not afraid of death, but of dying and actually it’s about the fear of the pain and the strangeness. It’s similar with getting older. I don’t think people are afraid of old age. Getting older brings a lot of positive things with it.

You know yourself and don’t have to prove anything to yourself or others (not everyone, but probably the majority). Experience allows you to make decisions that would not have been possible when you were younger, and the social network you have built up over the years is so strong that you can’t fall. Those who enjoy learning throughout their lives learn new things and keep up with the latest technological developments well into old age. Old age then brings with it some physical ailments and dwindling energy. For some, also limited mental flexibility. The fear of old age is more a fear of the negative consequences it brings.

I have been looking very carefully at people over 70 for a few years now and I see huge differences. There are those who let themselves go and enjoy the “old age” they deserve without doing anything for themselves, others or society. And there are those who do not feel that society owes them anything. They have taken their happiness into their own hands and control it with incredible bravura. The positive and self-determined among them fascinate me.

Yesterday I went cross-country skiing with my youngest. He joined in, but it became clear pretty quickly that cross-country skiing was not one of his favourite sports for the time being. We went at a very moderate pace. Up on the mountains (2000m), the avalanches were making their way down into the valley. From our track they looked like waterfalls. We could hear and watch them. Almost every time they went down, my youngest stopped and watched them. I tell all this to show that our pace had been more like a Sunday walk than a sporting activity. And as we dawdled we were overtaken by countless white-haired gentlemen and a few ladies. We were riding classically, they were skating and going very fast. One of this older gentleman caught my eye because of his white hair tied into a tail. He passed us 3!!! times. How frustrating. I estimate him to be probably 75 years old. That’s how I want to age too.

But I also think of my mother (soon to be 80) and how she learned e-banking, internet shopping, online communication and everything it takes in modern society. How she got behind the wheel after hardly driving a car for almost 20 years and how she is now mastering the technical maintenance of her Skoda, of which she had no idea 2 years ago. Our retired neighbour, a former primary school teacher, who became interested in astrophysics and is now studying the subject at university. Or my mother’s somewhat older neighbour, who can be booked as an “hourly husband” and who gets the households of many elderly ladies living alone going again with small repairs and is usually still invited to lunch or dinner, so that the social component is not neglected.

I am most impressed by Wilma. Wilma has been a widow for 2 years and lives in a big house with a garden. She grows her own vegetables, makes jam, plays several musical instruments, reads a lot, in times before Corona she regularly went to gymnastics and swimming. She repairs old dolls, keeps the house and garden in meticulous order, has many visitors because people feel so comfortable with her (including me). There are many things she does herself – the tax return, laying a floor, crocheting curtains. And if she doesn’t know something but needs it, she tries to learn it. She is over 80 years old and has some health problems which she deals with very pragmatically. She is interested in many things and there is no vote in which she had not participated.

I wish that we are all granted to grow as old (and I don’t mean in numbers) as Wilma. That means enjoying life, being open to new things and making the best of the given situation, not just thinking about yourself. The rest comes by itself.

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