by Judy Andreas
[dropcap]I [/dropcap]have always had a fondness for animals. Staring into the eyes of a dog, honesty and warmth stare back at me. Cats have been my favorite. I am not sure whether it is their grace or their independence of spirit.
But I love animals. However, when I turned on the nightly news and saw what resembled a deer with the proverbial “caught in the headlights” stare, I was a bit taken aback. Then, on second glance, I realized that this was no deer but, instead, a “dear.” I looked incredulously at the wide-eyed female and wondered why she had tampered with a perfectly lovely face.
I love the deer and it pains me to see one occasionally riding on the top of the hood of the car or lying moribund by the side of the road. I have encountered Bambi on several occasions, motoring down a dark country road, and yes, I’ve admired the beauty of the animal. However, I must confess that I’ve never had the desire to look like one.
Has aging become a crime in the United States of America, punishable by a shot of Botox or various and sundry tucks, snips and pulls?
Simone de Beauvoir, the French existentialist philosopher, writer and social essayist, in her book, The Second Sex, called our treatment of the aged “scandalous.” And though Ms. Beauvoir was writing about women, men have also fallen prey to the disease — the disease of “outlook” not “aging.”
Interestingly, however, this was not always the case. The founding fathers, for example, viewed the elderly as indispensable in establishing the New World. The elderly were looked upon as paragons of virtue. In pre-Civil War America, references to “venerable” old age were part of everyday parlance. White-haired Uncle Sam became the symbol of the New Land.
With growing frequency, after the Civil War, Americans began to change their favorable beliefs about the usefulness and merits of age. Instead of depicting seniors as stately and wise, more often than not, they were described as ugly and useless. Instead of extolling the virtues of the wisdom and practical sagacity of the aged, people developed the mindset that the elderly were incapable of contributing anything of value to society.
Ideas developed about the pathological disorders that weakened the intellectual capabilities and moral faculties at advanced stages of life. “Youth” were thought to be most “in sync” with the modern needs of our society.
And today, how many of our elderly people have been warehoused in Old Age facilities, doped up on a lengthy list of pharmaceuticals? How many people are waiting for the velvet darkness of death?
This turn of events is based, I believe, on our denial of death. Staring into the eyes of an old person, one no longer sees into the soul, with its vast wisdom and experience. Instead, the reflection of the viewer’s own mortality obscures his vision and the scream of fear silences his humanity.
It is interesting that in other cultures, with a less materialistic perspective, people are not as terrified of aging. In Taoism, old age is taken as a virtue in itself. Lao Tzu’s teachings set the age of 60 as the moment at which a man may free himself from his body and by ecstatic experience become a Holy Being. I contend that Lao was also talking about women, but who cares about political correctness when we are dealing with life-and-death issues.
When my youngest son was two years old, we spent each Friday morning delivering Meals on Wheels. One of our customers has deposited himself forever in my memory bank. Fred was close to 90, yet he would walk to the library every day. He was an avid reader and writer.
He dazzled me with stories about his boyhood in Wisconsin and told me of the various jobs he had performed along his path. He had even written a book, but stated, sadly, that there was no demand for it. I was delivering the meals and yet this gentlemen was nourishing me.
I confessed my dismay to an Internet friend. He responded with a beautiful letter in which he said, “Clinging to youth prevents one from entering the next stage of life, which traditionally is the elder stage. This is crucially important in one’s development. This is when we become truly ourselves.”
Let us never forget the words of the poet Robert Browning:
“Grow old along with me/ The best is yet to be
The last of life, for which the first was made…”