“The culture has an impression of aging that is not realistic”

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary on HBO called “If you’re not in the Obit, eat breakfast”! It was a wonderful tribute to individuals who have reached ninety and are still engaged in life with vitality and enthusiasm. I was delighted to view a show that did not focus on cognitive decline, arthritis and other infirmities. Norman Lear, one of the participants said it best, “The culture has an impression of aging that is not realistic”, he said. “To get laughs it paints a picture of older people as infirm, as whiny, and as incapacitated and foolish”.

Of course we all know that as we age we are definitely at the mercy of physical and mental decline. However, there are many elders, who despite their infirmities continue to be aware and involved in life, and quite a few who are in amazing shape. The great majority of entertainment is youth obsessed. Magazines rarely showcase older women or men as models. If they do show anyone of advanced age it’s usually in an ad for erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, or constipation. Although even that is shifting to portraying younger people. The latest Depends ad has a young woman, perhaps thirty years of age, sashaying down the street in a tight pair of pants, flipping her long blond hair, challenging anyone to notice that she is wearing Depends. I would much rather see someone like the late Ruth Gordon. She would not only add authenticity but humor as well.

I was amazed as the documentary gave examples of a hundred year old woman who not only was a yoga instructor but was now engaged in learning the Argentinian Tango. Betty White who is now ninety-five added her incredible wit and discussed her passion for animal activism. Dick Van Dyke at ninety-one danced like someone fifty years his junior. His agility was astounding! Mel Brooks was his usual hysterical self. There were many others in the documentary, musicians, artists and designer Iris Apfel, whose life has been documented on HBO as well. She definitely marches to the beat of her own drum.

Lear, Van Dyke and Reiner spend lots of time together noodling about their projects and passions. They watch movies together at least three times a week and seem to consistently come up with new ideas combined with lots of laughter. They reminded me of the conversations I would have with my mother and grandmother. They were always thinking of what they were going to do next.

There is no doubt that aging has its challenges. I am witnessing many of my peers who are going through health issues that are often debilitating. We all know that diet and exercise are helpful, but it is absolutely necessary to remember that friendships and passion for something that helps give our lives meaning is paramount.

Let’s Connect-Without Our Phones

I have a dear friend whom I’ve known for years. We now live several hundred miles apart and don’t see each other all that often, but we make it a habit to talk on the phone at regular intervals.
A few weeks ago it occurred to me that we hadn’t talked in quite a long time, so I called her at home. Of course, I got her voice mail, “Hello, please leave me your name and number and the reason for your call, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Two days later she called me from her car, Hi, it’s me. I’m so sorry I haven’t called in such a long time. Things here are just insane! I’ve been working so hard it’s unbelievable. I worked all weekend on a project, and when I’m not working, I have to take the kids to birthday parties and playdates. I haven’t had a minute to call. I’m so overwhelmed, I just don’t know what to do.”
I honestly couldn’t think of a response that wouldn’t be tinged with sarcasm. My friend hasn’t called me in over a month and she takes the first ten minutes of a conversation to tell me that she’s been too busy to talk to me. This rhetoric is not unusual. The culture we live in seems to find it necessary to go over in detail everything they do every minute of everyday. There appears to be a need to fill every moment with some task in order to feel valuable. Stopping to make a phone call to a friend or spending time with family and friends becomes a chore to be squeezed into a massive “to do” list.
Is everyone like this? Of course not! However it has definitely become a way of life for many. After teaching stress management for over thirty years, I have become a witness to how many individuals declare they are overwhelmed and fatigued. The irony is that getting together with people you care about helps to reduce stress and helps us to feel more energetic. Unless of course, they are energy vampires.
Years ago, we all lived in communities that were close knit, which is still present in some neighborhoods in big cities. Residing in suburbia creates a more solitary existence. Cars are necessary, and it often feels like the Twilight Zone. Having someone stop by for a cup of coffee seems to be a thing of the past that will soon become an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum.
Face to face communication is an important and necessary ingredient to our health according to Dan Buettner author of The Blue Zones. Not through texts, e-mails, or phone, but in person. Perhaps its time to spend less time “binge watching” and spend more time “binge looking” at the people in your life.