To read articles from the Cape Jewish Seniors Association, download the February 2019 issue of the Cape Jewish Chronicle.
We experience ageing not as a slow, steady process, but in moments of shocking awareness — at the death of a parent, the birth of a grandchild, or the arrival of our first grey hairs.
Although the physical signs of ageing are only part of the story, our reaction to them is often the strongest evidence of our denial. Whatever our age, we need to consider why we’re afraid of getting older, and learn to embrace each milestone along the way. One needs to find wisdom, inspiration and ideas about how to proceed to the next stage of life with optimism, energy and confidence.
Sharon Stone was seen on the cover of a magazine, aged 50 — bare breasted and wearing a leather corset with high heels declaring “I’m 50 — so what !” In real life, what woman of her age really has such a perfect face and body?
In our society everyone wants to live longer, but can’t stand their bodies showing signs of aging but it isn’t easy to get away from the fantasy of growing old youthfully. Aside from offending our vanity, our slightly rounder middle and silvering hair serve as painful reminders that we’re not as useful in society’s exacting terms as we once used to be. It’s a rare woman who does nothing to hide, or at least to soften, the ravages of time, whether to avoid being sidelined at work, to hold on to her powers of seduction, or simply to feel more comfortable in her skin.
Often, the insidious and unrealistic notion that it’s possible to preserve youth indefinitely — if only we try hard enough — clashes cruelly with our experience, both of growing older and of watching our parents and partners age. Those of us watching loved ones growing old whilst suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s no longer recognising people while physically being fine knows that growing old like that isn’t really living.
Ageing means different things to men and women and indeed, it can also mean different things from one generation to the next. If menopause is a key stage in a woman’s life, career has traditionally been the main benchmark by which men measure their lives — ageing can be a difficult experience for them, particularly if it stops them being able to work. It is extremely difficult to let go of a career even if one suggests that the person might enjoy free time.
Never say never — don’t limit yourself and never give up on dreams. Don’t compare yourself to anyone and be gentle on yourself. Nowadays later life increasingly is seen as a time of reinvention, rather than only of rest and relaxation. All over the world more people want flexibility as they age; periods of work alternating with periods of education and leisure. People want to take control of their lives and continue to be active and productive in their own unique ways.
In a world where everything, including the way we age — is changing increasingly quickly, the desire for a greater sense of control is stronger than ever. It is difficult to imagine what sort of person we will be when we are old, but it is worth considering what this process has to offer; a better understanding of ourselves, the permission to ‘let go’ (whether emotional baggage or impossible standards) and the opportunity to focus our energy on projects that we really care about. Rather than fighting a losing battle to stop the passage of time, or withdrawing and becoming bitter, we need to seek an active acceptance and fresh awareness of ourselves.
At about 40. Our perception of our bodies, our image and our sexuality changes. It is the age where we start to think about the way our parents were when we were adolescents, and the ideas our mothers passed on to us about what it means to be a woman. This process allows us to question our fears and desires — do we want to age the same way our parents did? Can we allow ourselves to live differently, to be ourselves rather than becoming the projection of what our parents wanted us to be? This focus on ourselves offers an important opportunity to resolve inner conflicts.
And so, an inability to look within, or to accept our changing bodies, to become a missed opportunity to rewrite the terms of our lives. Ultimately, fixating on the physical can have a detrimental effect on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Clinging to an illusion of physical youth often leads to reliance on the approval of others to validate that illusion. Women’s sense of beauty is then too dependent on external sources, rather than on an internal experience.
Difficult as it may be, learning to depend less on external sources can be an exhilarating and liberating experience. Rather than viewing age merely as a loss to be mourned or an obstacle to be overcome, it is possible to see it as a journey of discovery. The key to optimum ageing lies in managing the dynamics between gains and losses. In ageing— our spiritual forces expand. A life of the heart and mind takes over as the physical force ebbs away — the bonus being is that we gain as we lose.
Diana Sochen Executive Director