Could it be that rather than putting ourselves on the shelf as we get to a certain age, we have the amazing opportunity to serve and express ourselves more freely, released from the false worries about fitting in and what people will think about us?
No need for the resignation of, “I’ve got nothing to lose,” – but the choice to be inspired by the same feeling – unashamed and without shyness we can go for it, sharing our experience, wisdom and observations without reservation.
There is enormous fun to be had with this as we first accept the liberation and then the simplicity of the responsibility on offer to support and mentor others, sharing what we have learnt along the way.
So what, as a society, can we say is going on when we so readily dismiss and sideline our elders? With our attention and attachment to youthfulness, are we resisting the natural cycles of life and the richness they hold, disregarding and undervaluing all that is on offer from our elders and their lived experience?
As two elders, we have certainly had a developing relationship with the concept of growing old. There are so many myths that abound around ageing:
- That we will at some point ‘get it’ or ‘have all the answers’
- That it is a decline from everything we had when we were younger, ‘over the hill’ as the saying goes
- That it is the time for us to retire and be rewarded for our hard work, a ‘putting out to pasture’ mentality
- That, maybe particularly for women, it is all over in terms of our physical attractiveness to others
- That we should gracefully step aside to make way for the younger generation.
Talking to others and as we feel now there is no ‘getting it,’ – the gorgeous thing being that we actually start to feel younger, realising how much we still have to learn and losing the pressure of needing to look like we have all the answers. This leaves us much more open, curious and appreciative of the ongoing and endless discoveries life offers. There is an acceptance that introduces humility, a life-enriching quality that allows us to view the world and our place and purpose in it with a sense of the bigger picture and the joy of our equality.
It is now our experience that our ageing bodies are beautiful, sexy, sweet, and endlessly precious, emanating qualities that behold, nurture and support others. We can give ourselves permission to embrace the confidence and freedom to dress and present ourselves without being devotees to fashion magazines and the latest ‘looks.’ And that there is no retirement requirement; that a deepening engagement with life and the people in it means we realise how much we still have to offer and how much we want to continue to do so.
Whilst gripping youth so ardently (seen so clearly in the celebrity world), is humanity as a whole avoiding the responsibility and balance of embracing growing old and the steadiness and deep understanding of life that these years hold? And how in the reflection of the way we live, others get to transform and develop their relationship and understanding of ageing and growing older.
In our experience of being elders, at work, in our families and amongst our community, there is a grace in accepting growing older and a huge service in taking responsibility for the pivotal part we play in society. If we reflect on this being the autumn of our lives and what this symbolises, it can be a period of great inspiration as we take stock of what is truly important and offer this reflection to others.
No need to shrink into the shadows. We can simply embrace growing older, appreciating the passage of time, the learning on offer and the blessing of the responsibility we have to share and reflect.
By Judy Atack and Matilda Bathurst