“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”
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Wise Aging Workshops, reads the title in a brochure for fall offerings in continuing education. I had a problem deciding if the workshops were meant to be aging themselves, or they were about doing it wisely. I decided on the latter. That said, the subtitle entices with a directive to Live Your Later Years with Spirit, Resilience and Wisdom. Those are good goals for any time of life, although wisdom is a difficult acquisition for the young, and spirit and resilience can both be a challenge if physical energy is waning in the later years. Arriving in my email one morning with the subject line, “The Key to Aging Wisely”, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this course was surely about “the aging brain”, for what could control the process of maturation more directly than our most essential of organs?
I well remember attending a lecture years ago purported to be about the secrets of the aging brain revealed by the leading brain doctor at a major New York City teaching hospital. I was surprised to find a young woman at the podium delivering what I assumed would be weighty medical sermon filled with facts and figures about the inevitability of our mental decline and how to live with it. I was also amazed to see a mixture of ages and genders in the audience, a fact I explained with the belief that the younger men and women were worried about their aging relatives who might soon become a burden. But I often find my most cherished assumptions overturned, and must say I rather enjoy the excitement that engenders. And so, listening to whispered snatches of conversation around the room, I soon realized everyone was there for the same reason: anxiety over their own aging!
Well, why not? I was barely middle-aged myself and I already had to search for the right word that had become maddeningly illusive. I assumed I had a dread disease or a mental disorder at first, but soon realized not only my muscles were deteriorating at an alarming rate; my brain was, too. Visions of a crystal bowl filled with paperclips and sundries on my desk kept floating up. How often I’d rummaged around in it, knowing I’d put what I wanted there but unable to find it, reminding me of my own brain quickly becoming just as useless and confused the fuller it got and the more haphazard the arrangement of its contents. Still, I wanted to know how to stave off the inevitable and hoped the lecture might assist. I was not alone, yet few of us felt satisfied that afternoon. There were no magic fixes and in fact, nothing most of us didn’t already know. It was a frustrating exercise. Continue Reading