When I was very young, we lived with my grandparents, in an old farmhouse. Time and neglect had criss-crossed my bedroom ceiling with chips and cracks, and lumps where repairs had been attempted. Lying in bed, I pretended these imperfections were rivers, roads and mountains. My wanderlust was born tracing those imaginary highways.
Life’s a journey, and by the time, like me, you reach 70, its map probably resembles that bedroom ceiling. It’s a mess of meanderings, dead ends, summits achieved and strategic retreats. My 10-year-old self never imagined, nor wanted, a perfectly boring, straight road; but in my head my future was a highway with crossroads, which took me in a new direction from time to time. Nevertheless, I always moved forward, and seldom was lost. I also never arrived at my final destination.
On Third Age Attitudes
A while back, I changed the subtitle of this blog from “Life on a Small Island & Beyond” to “Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age.” Third Age is the phrase used in Spain to describe those of us who have left the rat race because of age. (I thought very careful about how to phrase that.) It sounds a whole lot better than “seniors/senior citizens,” “retirees/pensioners,” and especially better than saying “folk of an advanced age,” or even “elderly,” doesn’t it? The Oxford Dictionary describes it thus: “The period in life of ACTIVE retirement, following middle age.” The emphasis is mine.
See, I have met far too many people for whom retirement has meant giving up on real life, and becoming an observer, and, especially, a critic, of what is going on in the world, without any longer participating. It might be enjoyable, but, honestly, all of these folk were …. boring. They had no first-hand tales to tell, their stories were of queues at the bank, gossip about neighbors, or that ever-popular topic, the weather. Some of these folk still inhabited the world of their past glories, stuck in a time warp of big hair, prawn cocktails, and Tom Collinses.
Many of my friends are of this age demographic, but they spend their time in finding new challenges and adventures. They write books, travel the world (and I don’t mean from the comfort of a cruise ship); they paint and draw, run successful blogs (as opposed to this one which is not), do volunteer work. They walk, climb, dance, cycle, study, windsurf, take yoga and Pilates and tai chi classes, and learn new skills. Some continue their work, because they are passionate about what they do. Most of us weren’t that lucky, or were too foolish to have found passion in our work, of course. Some of them make decent money from their Third Age ventures, others find the rare satisfaction of accomplishing something they have dreamed of for decades.
What my friends have in common is that they have never lost their curiosity. They ask themselves, “How will that next wave feel?” or “I wonder what’s over the next hill?” “How can I share this wonderful experience I just had?” or “How do people from this or that country view the world?” They want to know how to make their own bread, hats, furniture or pottery. They grow their own food or flowers, or simply ask themselves “What if…” Many folk find joy in helping raise their grandchildren, having the time for them they never had for their own children, when putting bread on the table was the main goal in life. It’s a different journey for each of us. What they do not do is park themselves up in the sidings, waiting for the train that carries the Grim Reaper to hurtle into theirs.
All of which is a long way round of saying that I am going to be focusing more on that aspect in this blog in future. It doesn’t come all at once, this discovery of Third Age freedom, like most things worth doing, it’s a learning curve, and bound by the same peaks and troughs as earlier stages of life. The trouble may be that it’s easier to give up, to sink back into the relative certainty of the lifestyle a pension affords most of us. It also takes more effort. It’s so much easier to snooze the alarm rather than get out for an early walk; down one more beer, intending to eat healthy from tomorrow on; or give up on that book and flick on the TV instead. I know because this is what I sometimes do. Not always, often these days I rise to the challenge, sometimes I don’t, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me …… there is less and less time to do the stuff I want to do!
Of course, Western society and attitudes encourage us to vegetate as the clock ticks. We may be exhausted from a lifetime of making ends meet, cowed by new technology, or coaxed into spending our pensions on new anti-wrinkles creams, exercise machines which don’t require us to move from our chairs (and that is no reflection on those who really cannot move from their chairs), or a new car, which remains, a status symbol, rarely used, sitting in our driveway.
Then, of course, there is the attitude of others, family, friends, the press, who subscribe to the conventional view of age. Family worry for us. Friends are afraid of being jealous if we do something which breaks the mold. I am indebted to a former friend, who, when I idly expressed a desire to get a tattoo when I was in my late 50s, said, “OMG but what will people think?” You miss the point, m’dear! Attaining age is attaining the freedom to “Not give a damn.”
The press view of anyone over 60 is that they are about to die. Even now, when the phrase Baby Boomer appears in the media daily, manufacturers and advertisers haven’t woken up to the fact that this segment of the population has spending power beyond false teeth adhesive and joint pain pacifiers, not that either of those things are unnecessary.
I am beyond lucky in the support I get from my sons, who encourage me to hike, write, travel, and keep fit in mind and body. I owe them a huge debt. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on my way! You see ….. you never should stop travelling!
One of my heroes is Katherine Switzer, who broke the gender bias of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, when women were forbidden to participate. Just last week, at 70, she ran and finished the New York Marathon, now she’s breaking the taboos of age as well as gender! The oldest woman to place, by-the-way, was 84 years old, and the oldest man, 80. Switzer placed third in her age group. Although she won the New York Marathon in 1974, she doesn’t always win, but what she has done, since 1967 is inspire women, and now Third Agers. It ain’t, of course, the winning, but the taking part, and most of us are too afraid of failure, of being laughed at, or just too lazy to even try, or perhaps simply lack the confidence. Check this if you think that finishing last is for fools.
I use marathon running as a metaphor, achieving something amazing can be anything you want to do, because you think you’re too old…..ask my friends how they felt when they saw their book cover, stood on the Great Wall of China, sold a painting or a photograph, got positive feedback on their blog, or rode a wave.
On Being Fit for the Challenge
Part of facing up to a challenge is being fit enough to do it, even if the fancy that haunts you isn’t a physical one, you do need to be fit to keep your grey matter healthy too; not to mention that life is simply easier if you keep those aches and pains at bay, and exercise and diet help that.
I had thought of starting a brand new blog on this subject, but since I am, and always will be, a student of this stuff and not a master, then it would be wrong to preach or try to teach about it. That said, over my last, two, non-blogging years I’ve learned and read much more about nutrition and keeping fit than at any time in my life. Honestly? I’ve always been kind of “fit enough.” I always had just enough willpower to reign in my eating when I began to bulge, and to exercise when I really needed to. Actually, I always enjoyed exercise, but what I didn’t do was to prioritize it enough. Now, as I said before, there is a gnawing awareness of time running out.
I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that one should eat the cake and drink the wine ad infinitum, because tomorrow we die. Sure I will eat cake and definitely will drink wine, and I will enjoy every crumb and sip, but not so much that it means that I will die tomorrow, as the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because, heck, who knows what delights tomorrow holds? Seeing the aurora borealis or Victoria Falls, being out on the ocean at night where there is no light pollution to see the millions of stars and planets, are worth far more than that extra slice of pie, or the third bottle of beer.
So I might just be rambling on about food and drink, and exercise now, because I am sooooo fed up of people saying “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or even “why.” In that period I covered in recent blog posts, I twice stuck to a pretty rigid diet, and faithfully followed an exercise regime, because it was obvious that if I wanted to enjoy life, I needed to do so. And, yes, twice I have gradually given up on both. (Neither of those a first over a lifetime btw) Both times I have retained some of the information, gone overboard on Instagram with “healthy food” photos, or probably been so overenthusiastic that it couldn’t last. Rallying cry of we, Third Agers, might be “It’s never too late!”
The challenges we face are really no different than those we have always faced, it just seems, from my personal observation, that the older people get, the more inclined they are to not take on the challenge, because in their arsenal of excuses they now have “I’m too old for this.” The impetus we have, which we lacked when young, is that …. to be brutally frank ….. we may not be able to start tomorrow. We have to start today. Right here, and right now!