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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

You’re Getting Older…and It Scares You??

Turquoise Waters of the Mayan Riviera, Mexico. Credit
Boomers are fast increasing in numbers. As they do, they realize that what was once old, is now the age they’re at. And it frightens them. We live in a youth-oriented society, we live in fear of becoming invisible (remember how people used to really see you, and now frequently they do not?), and we live in fear of the consequences of impaired health as age beckons.

David Crumm of the Detroit Free Press recently wrote the article I have reproduced below, and I was once again reminded of a radio show I did in 2006 called Conscious Aging (click on the link to listen to it).

The process of Conscious Aging begins with recognizing that you are aging, and realizing that aging, this new chapter of your life can be just as fascinating and vibrant and vital as your other chapters. Conscious aging implies taking the process of aging as a time of your life that has something valuable to offer you, and that as you age you continue to have something valuable to offer society. Conscious aging implies remaining apprised not only about what is going on, but remaining passionate about life, realizing that you can continue to learn until the day you die, and that if you do that, you do not age on the inside.

DAVID CRUMM Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — We have met the aging — and they are us.

Welcoming the aging process as a natural part of life, rather than fearing it as an embarrassing problem, is the key to a more meaningful life, Dr. Thomas Cole, one of the nation’s leading experts on aging, told a crowd of men and women this month at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“Aging is an art. It’s not a scientific problem to be solved,” Cole, 58, told the crowd.

His visit was an encouraging sign that religious leaders and health care professionals are developing creative strategies to meet the social change that’s redefining American life.

The local Jewish community, as a whole, is encouraging fresh studies of aging this year. Cole’s one-day visit was co-sponsored by several Jewish agencies and the 180 doctors who are part of the Adat Shalom Physicians’ Journey Group, a scholarly group that studies cutting-edge issues.

Cole is a researcher, author and documentary filmmaker on staff at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He encourages Americans to see aging as a creative, spiritual process.

“Being old is filled with unexpected possibilities for creativity,” Cole said.

That makes good psychological sense and it’s also a matter of faith, he pointed out. For instance, he noted that Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was 90 and, the Bible says, she laughed at the idea that she might give birth at such an age.

Cole assured the crowd that he’s not expecting people to have babies at such an age, but the birth of Isaac really is a symbol of great spiritual creativity, Cole argued.

This idea of welcoming, rather than fearing, maturity may sound simple, but Cole said it’s becoming an urgent message because of the rapid rise of anti-aging marketing schemes.
“People now can buy an awful lot of anti-aging stuff that may not be good for them, and they may not even know it,” Cole said.

If people remain fearful about aging, he said, “we’re going to fall prey to the merchants of immortality.”

Few religious groups are as forward-looking on this issue as the local Jewish community.

Many Christian churches across the U.S. recoil from aging. The growth of suburban mega churches was fueled by a thirst for youthful styles of worship. In response, many shrinking congregations in mainline denominations hired church-growth experts who often kicked off their parish makeovers by telling church leaders that their members were too old.

Cole’s message felt like a much-needed jolt of electricity, many said after his talk.

Esther Liwazer, 72, a real estate broker from Farmington Hills, stood up and said, “Look! I took pages of notes! This is very important. What he’s saying is that society needs an attitude adjustment.”

Karen Jackson, 58, a dietician from Detroit, called Cole’s message “absolutely remarkable.” She said, “Our society is in the middle of a revolution because of aging and the overarching idea is that we need to be positive about this.”

Aging ranks among the most popular themes for the Our Spirit columns, including one this month about an unexpected spiritual connection between two women, ages 18 and 71, after they began to share life stories.

Studying aging is exciting, Cole said, because unlike most emerging social issues, the creative range of responses seems wide open.

Or, as Cole put it last week, “Later life seems to be a season in search of its purposes.”

“Aging is an art. It’s not a scientific problem to be solved. Being old is filled with unexpected possibilities for creativity.”

I'll be writing about aging again soon in this blog. Aging is a much maligned time of our lives, and yet it can be one of our richest times. As so many other things, choices also have to be made about aging, and one of those choices is to decide to enjoy all epochs of your life, including this one.

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