I was in my exercise class this morning when the instructor, a wonderful woman who just turned 56, said, “Yes, we’re doing this shoulder strengthener so we won’t look old!”
She said it as if being old was a disease we could fight against getting, as if being old was something to be ashamed of.
That stopped me for a moment. I looked around the room. Out of twenty women, I was by far the oldest. (I remember when I used to be the youngest a half a century ago, but it doesn’t seem that long.) Maybe two other women were in their sixties, but most were in their twenties, thirties or forties. Everyone looked young, svelte and strong. (They also had thick, beautiful hair, darn them.) After 3 months of consistently attending the class, I have regained much of the strength I’d lost due to inactivity after surgery and my back injury. I wasn’t having trouble keeping up with the bevy of beauties, but suddenly I felt less than capable. After doing some sit ups, I felt a stabbing pain in my back where my disc bulges between the L4 and L5.
One of my new year resolutions was to be happy with myself at my age. I have been working on that along with the barre class, yoga and Pilates. I think they go hand-in-hand. Being 69 doesn’t mean I can’t stand up straight, which is what I think the instructor actually meant this morning. I take the classes not to look better, which was my motivation when I was younger. Now, I take them so I can feel good. I’ve also been reading John Sarno’s “The Divided Mind” which details how so much of our pain starts in our unconscious emotions and burrows into our muscles. So I don’t think it was a coincidence that my back hurt so much after the “aging is a scourge” reference.
When I went to the surgeon with my knee problem last March, he showed me the results of the MRI. “Torn meniscus,” he said. Then he looked at me. “I mean, what can you expect at your age. That’s what happens when you’re 68. All of you babyboomers just want to keeping going no matter what.”
At the time, I laughed to myself, thinking of the arrogance of youth. But I realize a year later, that his diagnosis of aging parts has affected me ever since. It’s been in my head whispering that I should be careful, that I am deteriorating, that I’m almost ready for the junk heap. And I started feeling and being weaker. My knee hurt, my back hurt, my neck hurt. “I can’t do this,” became almost a mantra. “I’m old. What do I expect?”
Well, I guess I expect a lot. Because I’m not throwing in the towel. I’m not going to be skate boarding anytime soon, but I’m going to be active. I’m going to do what I want to do—because that’s one of the best benefits of being my age. I don’t have to do anything to prove myself anymore. Getting old is a lot of fun. I know who I am and what I want. Even if my path is blocked by rocks, I’m still going to travel it.