I’m older than I ever planned to be.
Growing up, I thought most elderly were feeble, sick, pathetic, depressed or lonely. Many children’s books depicted apron-clad, grey-haired grannies hunched over ovens, while television commercials often showed bald, wrinkly men advertising denture creams and arthritis rubs. If this is what life held in store after 60, I did not want any part of it. I made up my mind that I would “live fast and die young” just like 1950s cinema idol James Dean, and I assumed (erroneously) that the best of my years would be over once I turned 24.
That is, until I saw an episode of “The Golden Girls.” The popular sitcom, which aired from 1985-1992, made television history. Based on the lives and interactions of four older, single women—three widows and one divorcée—who shared a home, the show portrayed seniors in a positive, energetic light.
Watching “The Golden Girls” became a ritual for me on Saturday nights. I’d look forward to the weekly antics of Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Each episode, these feisty femmes would gather around their kitchen table to tackle some tribulation in one or more of the women’s lives. With humor, the foursome dealt with significant and continuously relevant issues such as family relationships, elder care, sexuality, AIDS, immigration and death.
The loveable Betty White, at age 92, is the only “Golden Girls” cast member still living. In a 2012 interview with People Magazine she’s quoted as saying, “…I’m active all the time. I think that forces you to stay well.”
Perhaps activity – both mental and physical – is the key to longevity. I delight when I see a 30-second spot on TV that features an older couple holding hands, dancing, laughing with silver-haired friends or playing on the floor with their grandchildren. It reminds me the best is yet to come—that my golden years also could be marked with adventure, joy and love.
I am decades older than my miscalculated, projected lifespan, and I view aging as a privilege. (The other alternative—the untimely demise—doesn’t sound nearly as attractive!) Today I can scoff at our youth-obsessed culture. At present, I have a bit of grey around my temples, noticeable laugh lines when I grin and some delicate crow’s-feet around my eyes, and gravity has begun to disturb the skin along my jawline. But middle age is not something I dread. It means I have acquired a great deal of wisdom thanks, in part, to my chronological age and my life experiences thus far. Aging is not a malady; it is simply a normal and natural part of human growth and development and should be treated as such. The prime of life is right where I am, whether my age is 45, 65 or 95.
The fountain of youth is far deeper than I originally thought, and growing old gracefully simply means being my authentic self regardless of the number of birthday candles that adorn my cake this year. When I look in the mirror, I may not recognize the girl I once was, but I love the woman I’ve become.