That was me. And like others in these first waves of feminism, I, after some painful soul-searching (chapters 5 and 6 in Caring Lessons), ventured out of the kitchen and nursery and went back to school and carved out a career.
Ellen Cole, the researcher I mentioned a few weeks ago, also had a gut reaction to Friedan’s book: “It turned my life upside down.” Now, at 71, she is interviewing seventy year olds from the Silent Generation (those born between 1925-1942) to see how our generation is transitioning to old age from those jobs that filled our lives. From her findings so far, she and her colleague, Jane Giddan, have come up with three “lessons” for “aging gracefully.” I’ll relate them to a few examples from my life now.
The first lesson is “accepting old age.” It’s funny how this old age stuff creeps up on you; it seems one day I was marching along meeting hourly appointments, and the next day I was happy to have one outing a day. I have found it helpful to focus on what I can do rather than lament the opposite. I no longer take my health for granted. I’m thankful I can see, hear, walk, talk, and eat. I have learned to be content with just that one outing a day. I have learned that wrinkles can make you look carved with wisdom.
The second lesson is to “banish the thought of ‘retirement’.” We don’t have to quit working if we don’t want to, but, if we do, we can do whatever we want to do. It feels prophetic now, but, more than twenty years ago, respondents from my doctoral research on older persons’ leisure, said, “I can do what I want, when I want, and for how long I want.” And that is the beauty of not having to have paid employment. I can get up when I want and read all day if I wish. With no grandchildren nearby and a self-sufficient husband, I have lots of free time, but I have found I had to replace my passion for nursing with another, and I’m grateful that a long dormant interest in writing surfaced immediately upon my retirement in 2000.
And the final lesson is “finding a community and immersing yourself in it.” If you need people like I need people, this is key. I feel truly blessed to live, for the first time in my life, in a city high rise. I don’t have to drive anywhere to find community. I’m only an elevator ride away from our gym, pool, and monthly building parties and book club meetings.
I’m next door to the historic Chicago Cultural Center with its Renaissance Court, run by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, where I’m taking an aerobic class three mornings a week.
I can walk to my regular meetings with my writing group, a staple in my life for over ten years.
I can walk to our church where I can also take classes. I just finished a course on the definition of marriage from Greco-Roman times, through Biblical times, to the present. This knowledge will be of interest as I follow the Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage.
I can walk to my University of Chicago class at the Gleacher Center which offers more non-credit courses in the humanities than I have time left to take.
And this short list does not even talk about being able to walk to symphony, opera, plays, or restaurants of every flavor. Or shopping. Or my favorite coffee shops. I’m writing this piece in my cozy Caribou on Michigan Avenue, surrounded by eighteen people, mostly young, working on their laptops. The young woman three feet from me just sneezed. I said, “Bless you.” She looked over at me and said, “Thank you.” We exchanged smiles.
And, of course, there are more places to meet people by volunteering; my most memorable experience in retirement has been with the Mental Health Ministry of my church with our goal of promoting awareness and education related to persons and families living with mental illness.
What about you? Have you or a parent or a friend accepted getting older? Have you considered what retirement means? Have you built in sources for sustaining community?
Consider these thoughts for your New Year’s resolutions. Happy New Year!
If you’d like to read more about Cole’s study of seventy year olds and/or participate, log on here: www.70candles.com
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
- What Boomer Women Can Learn About Aging From (Gasp) Older Women (theatlantic.com)
- Seventy: A Major Milestone for Women? (loisroelofs.com)
- What Is the Secret to Aging Gracefully and Happily? (acculturated.com)