Aging is something I sometimes recognize in myself. When it does happen, I'm always astonished. It takes a literal upset to awaken me. Like this week when I fell. I had kicked an Amazon package inside my front door in the late sunny morning and went out to cut three peach-pink roses. With my face still in the petals, I forgot about the package when I walked in over the transom to my darkened living room. I tripped. I spun backwards, pirouetting up into the air. I watched myself from outside my body, in eerie slow motion almost as if I were able to change my trajectory; instead, I crashed down hard on my wood floor. I landed on my back with a thwack and then my head hit the floor with such a loud crack that the postwoman delivering mail to my neighbor could hear me. She ran in and pulled out her phone to call an ambulance. But I refused 911. I had not been knocked out. I was just winded and nauseous. I thanked her and got up, her hand welcome. Yet seeing her phone inspired me to use mine to Google the word concussion and scroll down to symptom: nausea, yes. Treatment: none. I made my way to my guest bedroom and sank down on soft, comforting pillows.
As I lay there, I recalled family and friends who had fallen, some my age, some older. One hadn't seen a sunken living room and fell, breaking his hip, the precursor to his death. One had tripped outside, pruning camellias, breaking her forearm. Another sprained her wrist, tangled in her unruly dog's leash. Nothing out of the ordinary about any of them, except that the sunlight or dim light had blinded us. Hats and sunglasses become necessary armor to venture outside; extreme focus now required on stairways inside.
Plenty of studies show us falling and failing in what used to be such easy matters. We complain to each other about noticeable balance and fragility issues, short term memory loss, the thinning of our tissues and the fattening of our bellies. Yet studies on aging also show so much better news to celebrate. Gerontology is the new category in books. Yet we have been avoiding it for every good reason: sheer terror.
Author and activist Ashton Applewhite has been a long-time student of the field, (even though I'd consider her too young at 60). Mentored by pioneer Robert Neil Butler, she has a quick mind, a journalist's flair, and a welcome optimism to fuel her argument in her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. With a quote from Annie Lamott, "We contain all the ages we have ever been," she organizes her book around those topics that we think we know: our older brain and body, our sex and intimacy, and our work along with our resistance to living well at any age.
Applewhite relays surprising, even paradoxical findings about people over 50. For example, a U-shaped happiness curve describes us as happiest at the two ends of our lives: when we are very young and when we are much older, but pretty miserable in middle age when we struggle for work, income, and family. While younger people think that happiness occurs because of things; older people, in spite of things.
And all this translates to greater emotional well-being as we age moving to that upward swing of the U. Not a revolting development, after all!
Make your luck happen!