News Columns & Blogs

It's time to redefine growing old

Friday was my birthday, a milestone of sorts — I turned 64. Giving my age has never bothered me. I think that’s because I have had such great role models on growing old.Regular readers already know my Grandpa Wisener could still do handstands at age 94 and my father turns 95 this year. Their secret: they didn’t buy into the idea of growing old.I’m the same way and I intend to stay that way. There is just too much to see and do to start believing that opportunities for learning, fun and self-discovery become limited because of the passing of time. But somehow, despite the fact that Americans are living and working longer, the stereotype of seniors which conjures up images of bedpans and wheelchairs persists in our culture.While doing research on Older Americans Month, celebrated in May, I found an article by Tucker Sutherland, editor and publisher of Sutherland perfectly articulated my thoughts.“I guess my annual problem with Older Americans Month is that it appears to be created and managed by younger people, who know little about today’s senior citizens and tend to talk down to us like we are all mentally deficient and physically decrepit,” Sutherland wrote. “If you go over the themes for this event in past years it seems evident that many of them are aimed at helping us elderly people make it through another year or two. There are many older people who need help, I’m certainly not denying that, but I would rather see the emphasis be on the accomplishments of today’s American’s who have reached and far surpassed age 65.”Examples abound: The average age of Supreme Court Justices is 69. Singer Joni Mitchell, financial wizard Warren Buffet and dancer Judith Jamison are all over 65 and going strong. So, too, are Newt Gingrich, Sen. John Kerry, Mick Jagger, Bill Moyers, Cher and Dickey Betts.More to the point, the man in whose hands this nation’s security rests, Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, is 66.Age, my friends is a state of mind. And I know people in their 20s who are already over the hill.