I Won’t Go Quietly
"You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." –George Burns
When I was a teenager, I was pretty sure that anyone over 40 had pretty much lived their lives. The party was over. Bring on the retirement plans and prune juice. This belief persisted for years, though the goal post moved along with my age. First it was 40. Then 50. Then 60.
Well, here I am at 60, standing at the goalpost, looking around at grass that is still green and a sky that is still blue. I’m still breathing. And writing. And doing new things.
“Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab. And 70 is f*@king awesome!” –Helen Mirren
I didn’t realize I was setting the stage for a hopeful transition into my sixties, but that seems to be what I’ve done. I was 58 when I published my first book. At 59, I donated a kidney and got my first tattoo. Now here I am standing at the beginning of 60, working on my next book, planning another tattoo. I am, however, keeping the kidney donation down to one in a lifetime.
Here’s the funny thing: even though I had decided life after a certain age was dull and full of early bedtimes (the latter is true, but I find myself not minding), I decided I was still going to have a good attitude about it. I made this agreement with my 20-something self when I worked with a woman who turned 60. Instead of shrinking away from it, denying it, or lying about it, she celebrated it. And I thought I want to be like that when I am her age. (The actual thought may have been more like I want to be like that when I get old, but let’s not dwell on that now, shall we?)
So I will not bemoan this age. Instead I will exult and rejoice because nothing has become more apparent to me as I have gotten older than the fact that not everyone makes it to this milestone. It seems wrong to moan about something some people would have really liked to experience. My sister being one of those people. I am embracing this body, my long-lost waistline, my softened jawline. I have earned every sag and wrinkle.
“There are six myths about old age: 1) that it’s a disease, a disaster. 2) That we are mindless. 3) That we are sexless. 4) That we are useless 5) That we are powerless. 6) That we are all alike.” —Maggie Kuhn
Too often in my life, I have listened to the advertisers who tell women how we need to look and who we need to be. When we are young, society tells us we need to be thin, made-up, and fashionable. When we get older, society tells us we are no longer desirable, useful, or deserving of attention. If I retire from anything, it is listening to someone else’s idea of who I should be.
But I will also not be unseen and unheard. I remember once, when I was in my thirties, my mom got frustrated by a doctor she was seeing who didn’t listen to her. “Nothing is more invisible than a postmenopausal woman,” she told me. So I was forewarned and forearmed.
“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”–Maggie Kuhn
It helps that women of my generation grew up amidst the second wave feminist movement. We sang Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman.” And even though that movement seems to have stalled due to bad press and societal fears of crazed women burning their bras, look at what the next generation of women have done. They created the Women’s March. They catalyze the #MeToo Movement. They unapologetically demand the right to make decisions about our own bodies. Our voices will not fade away just because our hair has turned gray. We still have things to say, things to do, and art to create.
So I stand at the goal post, ready to do more, see more, be more. There are other goal posts ahead. I will walk slowly to them (my knees won’t let me do anything else), but I will do so with my head held high (ow, my neck). I will do what I can, as long as I can. I will dance in my golden years, sing in them (sorry everyone), but I will not go quietly.