The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and COVID-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimise stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of ageing and deciding what I need to reconsider.
I found considerable inspiration and guidance in a new book, Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old, by Steven Petrow, written with Roseann Foley Henry. Petrow, who is also a columnist but is nearly two decades younger than I, began thinking ahead after watching the missteps of his ageing parents, like waiting too long to get hearing aids.
I took a similar inventory of my life and started at the top, with my hair. I’d been colouring it for decades, lighter and lighter as I got older. But I noticed that during the pandemic, many people (men as well as women of all ages) had stopped covering their grey. And they looked just fine, sometimes better than they did with hair dyed dark above a wrinkled facade. Today, I too am grey and loving it, although I can no longer blame my dog for the white hairs on the couch!
I’ve also resisted the common temptation to cover up other cosmetic issues. I now rarely use makeup, and my usual summer costume remains short-shorts and tank tops. Wrinkles be damned. I’m proud to have them.
But I will continue to be irritated by bad grammar, like the sentence recently in the New York Times that ended … “to we mortals,” and correct misuse of the language whenever I can.
And I will stubbornly resist altering my habits to avert potential tragedies that others foresee. I walk my dog in the woods over slippery rocks, roots and fallen logs so I can enjoy his fearless energy and athleticism and improve my own balance and self-confidence. The doctor who monitors my bone health ends every consult with an order, “Do not fall,” and the treacherous woods walk is part of my response. As Petrow emphasised, fear of falling “can actually lead to more falls” by making you unduly anxious, hesitant and focused on your feet instead of what’s in front of you.
My kitchen was built for a 5-foot-tall cook who, thanks to scoliosis and shrinkage, is now several inches shorter. That means I often climb to reach items that I can’t store on a lower shelf. But I always use a sturdy step stool, unlike a 78-year-old friend who foolishly climbed on a chair (a big no-no), fell and injured his back.
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