When I was a teenager, old people just plain scared me. And in my adolescent mind, people who were 47 were OLD. They smelled funny, spoke oddly, acted quirky. As I grow older, the age at which I consider people “old” is gradually, and thankfully, changing.
In my 20s, 55 was old. In my early 30s, I thought 60 was old, until my mom turned 60, and then suddenly, it wasn’t anymore. Right before I hit 40, 70 seemed old to me, and then I started playing tennis with a woman who is 75 and can serve the ball down my throat. A few years ago, I thought 80 was old, and then I started teaching senior citizens computer skills at my local community college. When one of my students was 89 (eighty-nine and going to college to learn something new!), I quickly realized a few things.
All those people I used to think of as old, I now think of as awesome. Working and teaching people of an awesome age, whether they be in their 60s, 70s, or 80s, has taught me a few things about growing older, and what kind of person aging will inevitably make me.
Put simply, it’s gonna make me (and you!) a whole lot better. Because this:
1. You’ll never stop learning.
Ever. I had a gentleman who fought in World War II tell me he would like to learn how to tweet and asked if I could make him a hashtag. I had a woman in her 80s tell me she was researching ancient Troy for fun, just because she had always been curious about it. Just because they know if their minds are exercising, if the wheels of thought continue to turn, think, process, contemplate, daydream, and wonder, then they are still alive. The desire to learn doesn’t just go away as the years go by. Thank God.
2. You’ll remember more good times than bad.
Their memories amaze me. Random things like that Paul McCartney concert in 1974 where the last song was “Hey Jude,” the dress they wore for their senior prom in 1954, and even the car they drove there. Sprinkled among them are the big events—the births, the successes, the graduations, the marriages, the grandchildren. Milestones and memories flash behind their eyes and widen their grin. And everything shared is always all good. Even amidst times of tragedy and sadness, it was all good.
3. No more filter.
The older you get, the less you give a crap what people think. You can finally let it all out. All of it. Every opinion, observation, and viewpoint you’ve ever buried deep down inside finally rises to the surface and explodes, right off your tongue. And why not? Gone are the days of self-consciously silencing and censoring of yourself. You say what you think the second you think it. I. Can’t. Wait.
4. They’ve survived.
Not just physically, but mentally. They’ve had life throwing everything it can at them for probably twice as long as you and I have now, and they still get out of bed in the morning. I have days where I think I won’t even make it through the teen years, and they’ve put kids through college, married them off, and started second careers. They’ve buried their parents, maybe a sibling, possibly a spouse, and for some, even a child. And yet, they just keep going. Head up. New day. You can do this. Life is survivable.
5. They’re still in love.
Thirty, forty, even fifty years of marriage and they still walk into class holding hands and laughing at each other’s jokes. There is still a giddiness in the way they talk to each other, and as they reminisce about their kids and grandkids, often there is a thoughtful pause and tender glance between them. They share a common sense of amazement at what their marriage has endured and the family tree limbs that have grown from it, and still how alive their love remains. There are second, third, even fifth honeymoons, and golden years to fill with an ever-growing love story. I’m 100% ready for that.
So much of society tells us to fear age, to attempt to slow it down, to strive to make ourselves look and feel younger. I don’t fear getting older as much as I fear a society that devalues its aging population. I hope by the time I reach that state of “old” that the younger generation will place on me, I can defend our value to society, because I’m not ready to close this mouth anytime soon. And from what I am learning about my “filter,” with each passing year, it’s going to get thinner and thinner. Amen.