Living AgelesslyAs we get older, we usually start restricting our activities. What is so interesting about this reaction to getting older is that it is voluntary. We may look different on the outside, but deep within we know we are still just us. Even so, we start to eliminate certain goals and activities. Unfortunately, as we limit our activities we lose our vitality and sense of self.

Is it some fear of injury or embarrassment? Is it illness? Is it how the world treats us?

For sure, we are made to feel different as we age. Maybe it is the signs everywhere reminding us we are aging that slow us down. Senior citizen signs at the movie theater and other places where we can buy a ticket for almost anything. Or is it receiving social security benefits and how it makes us feel that we need government assistance? Is it getting mail from action groups like AARP? The signs go on and on. I know the intention behind many of these signs and programs is to be helpful and, in fact, special offers do help, but make no mistake, there is an insidious effect from reading all of these signs. The day itself begins to feel of less value since we are led to believe that we are unable to live the full adventure of a life. We start to feel like we need help or are not as capable of handling the day on our own terms as we once did.

There are good reasons behind many programs and discounts for senior citizens. But often the reason they exist is only for marketing purposes. Some demographic study on the audiences to attract led movies to be made, TV shows to be produced, and so on. But I don’t take issue with their purpose. The danger is when we identify with these versions of ourselves as merely an age group. The boxes we start to step into, and believe in increasingly, limit us as each year goes by. We come to believe that ways other people define us describe the full range of our abilities, instead of testing our own limits and defining ourselves. Regardless of any good intention behind special “senior” programs, there are unintended consequences. The feeling of being less is one of those consequences.

This can slowly deplete our self-esteem if we let it. That many people after a certain age lose their voices or develop a belief that their unfolding stories and journeys are of less importance than they once were is a real concern. With each passing year, many people begin to self-regulate what they are planning to do the next day, and it is less than the day before.

There are sign posts, gates we pass, throughout our lives that we let define our choices. School. If we complete high school and get a diploma, the path shifts. College. Graduate school. Doesn’t the box get narrower as each gate is entered and exited? I think about Peter Allen’s song “I Could Have Been a Sailor.” Could have. Would have. Should have. But then didn’t. Job? Marriage? Kids? Bills? Illness? With each one of these events and life transitions, so many of us believe our options are restricted so we place ourselves in smaller, tighter boxes. Many of us start to feel like prisoners in a cell where the wolf is the gatekeeper.But there is another way. The road is never barricaded unless we believe it is. The things we want to do are still available to us if we choose. So what do we choose to do? Why do we limit ourselves? Why even go down that road of denying the possibility that is still part of us? Have you ever witnessed any other animal intentionally restricting its activity? Maybe an old dog can’t run like he used to, but the dog doesn’t stop trying. Why should we be any different? With all our gifts and talents, we human beings so often end up using those talents to limit our own potential.We never question the age of a mountain. When we stare at it, we just stand in awe of its grandeur. Mountains know no age. In the same way, laughter, love, caring, being incredibly silly, and still risking it all know no age. Yet so many of us don’t believe that, because, as each gate is entered and exited, we think we need to let go of some part of ourselves. But if we are to be the heroes of our lives, each part is vital to staying who we are until the last moment. A hero is timeless. A hero lives in the minds and hearts of those he or she touches. A hero can read the signs and recognizes that the gates are always there. But as Joan Baez sings in her great song “You’re Aging Well,” you can take out your paintbrush and start changing the signs or make your own signs. We don’t have to permit some government or movie theater sign to change the very definition of who we are and what we can still be.Tear down any gates that don’t apply to you. Get out your paintbrush and write in big red letters: “I am me today. I shall choose my destiny. My legend still has a few more chapters in it before the last page.”hour of the wolfThis article is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Paul Lipton’s book, Hour of The Wolf, reprinted with permission.
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