There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist except an old optimist
So, which is it?
Nobody likes a Pollyanna. But that "optimism" adage is a little too much like saying if you're happy you must be kind of dumb. Plenty of young people use their cynicism to avoid disappointment. Plenty of older people expand themselves because they're optimistic.
I am thinking about age because next month, like last May, I will again, turn older than 50. I'm neutral on this, I was more upset at 49 about being almost 50. I know now how stupid that was, but I know now how stupid it is to dread any age. It insults all those other years that served you well, whether you looked forward to them or not.
Still, you can't help but take stock, consider your opportunity costs and compare what you're doing to what you are not, and most important, why you are not.
My personal thing now is to say yes to things that aren't always comfy, but are sure to enrich my life more than they will inconvenience me. I've started to travel more, I've started yoga and I'm trading diet soda for club soda with a splash of cranberry. Next, I'm going to start producing more fiction, even if it's hard and complicated, and even if life hasn't answered all of the questions I have for it, yet.
Yet is a very powerful word.
Yet means a lot to a good friend of mine who is over fifty and has recruited friends to form a competitive ski team. They are coaches mostly, experts all, and thankfully at least one is both a patrol and a physician. They are all about the same age, but it is the appetite for play that they have in common. They call themselves "The Idiots," and wear shirts that feature intentionally misspelled words.
That's funny. That's even optmistic.
I have another over-fifty friend who recently received her certification to teach yoga. She looks like she did when I met her twenty years ago, but that wasn't her aim. She knows that age brings hardships, but that time brings healing, which brings gifts of peace for the soul. To accept the former, my friend teaches people to use their bodies to embrace the latter, and most of us can do it without falling over now.
For everybody who doesn't reach a certain age and settle in to kill time, there is a place they have not yet gone.
People who aren't healthy about aging, well, we see them all the time. It's older men who can't tell the difference between the interest and sympathy of a young woman they've hit on. It's women who grow depressed and desperate with every new line that doesn't disappear with a good sleep.
Viewing ourselves like we come with expiration dates is bad enough. But I think it's worse that if only spared the ageist-culture hand mirror, many of us would not believe we have a shelf life at all.
A person can hurt their own feelings believing that culture knows more about their fate than they do.
Or one can follow the example of two people I know who have shaped their opinions of self around two things: what they do to remain vital, and knowing how to stay in their place which is wherever they wish to be.
One is a relative who was raised in Europe where, she says, the elderly are not merely tolerated but revered. She has described family members who, in their nineties remain vital and engaged and ultimately, are cared for by other family members who honor their wisdom and experience. Past seventy, she has an energy level thirty-year-olds would envy and she will likely remain an active tennis player well into her eighties.
Another one is my own mother, who, at nearly eighty, reads two books or more a week, follows a clutch of morning news experts, and of late, has become outspoken on the political goings on. We're more than twenty years apart but there is no opinion of hers, concerning anything I'm going through, that I don't value for its roots in simpler, more sensible times.
As I think about being over fifty again, I know that healthy people update. They know when it's time to exit or at least pull over and look at the map again. They don't quit, but recalculate. They change their minds, they honor new or abandoned passions and redirect their energies, because they are optimistic.
Mark Twain was brilliant, of course. He is my choice when people ask those questions ten minutes before a dinner party ends: "Who would you eat dinner with if you could pick anyone, dead or alive?"
Because, that optimism crack aside, Mark and I would probably agree on the subject of beholding one's own beauty and place in life, and just who is in charge of that boat that brings one there.