There, I’ll say it right up front. I’m turning 70. In our youth-obsessed society, it seems that most people over 40 don’t want to mention their age.
Rather, we seek out the wrinkle-reducing creams and dietary supplements that promise to keep us young. The morning ritual of applying makeup gives women a happy face. Many of us listen to the music of the young, visit the gym and generally try our best to preserve our youth. It doesn’t always work.
Youth is fleeting. It seems that we often look at human life in decades. Aging is part of that process. We frequently hear of references made about young adults in their 20s or middle-aged people in their 40s or old people in their 80s. This seems to be a convenient way to generalize about the stages of human life.
Entering the adult world of the 20s places each of us in a world filled with possibilities. Most people marry in their 20s and many become parents. Careers begin, homes are purchased, and other responsibilities of adulthood are assumed.
Perhaps at age 30, many of us realize that our youth is behind us. For me, reaching that milestone seemed difficult. It wasn’t so much the age of 30 but rather the sense that I was no longer youthful. But there wasn’t much time to contemplate my plight. Like most people, I was firmly entrenched in my career and raising my family.
There were needs to satisfy and wants to strive to fulfill. In many ways, it seems that our 30s and 40s can be lumped together. It’s work, raising children and enjoying life. Sometime in our 40s, most of us begin to realize that middle age is the next stage of life. Just when does it start? What is the definition of middle age? One definition speaks of the period of time between young adulthood and the outset of old age. That definition doesn’t seem to help much. Another source says it is the period of life between 40 and 60. Two other sources say 45 to 60 and 40 to 65. Take your pick, but adjust we must.
During our 50s many of us become grandparents. Some of us face the death of a parent. Job losses and health concerns can severely test this period in our lives. Many of us go through the “empty nest” portion of life when children leave home and go out on their own. Many of us are fortunate enough go through our 50s smoothly and confidently with good health and financial security.
After adjusting to middle-age concerns, it is inevitable that old age will soon follow. When does old age begin? When do we become “senior citizens”?
There is no doubt that old age follows middle age. But wait … that means that, according to definitions of middle age mentioned above, old age starts at 61. Or does it?
Let’s next look at the 60s. Most people begin the next critical stage in life – retirement. Depending on health, personal relationships and financial security, the “golden years” can be golden.
In my opinion, old age might fit some chronological definition but, in reality, there are two factors that determine old age. One factor is one’s state of mind. Does a person still see the world in a very positive light? Is there comfort in human relationships? Are scientific and technological achievements still held in awe? Are there hobbies and interests to provide satisfaction and fulfillment? Do the mysteries of nature still amaze? Is the human spirit still strong and does the good in the world still outweigh the bad?
The second major factor that determines old age is health. If someone has serious health concerns brought on by genetics, obesity, cigarette smoking, less that nutritional eating habits, lack of exercise, disease or drug abuse, then that person’s physical condition will greatly affect the aging process and one’s attitude about it.
The 70s, 80s and – for some – the 90s bring the same concerns. Quality of life certainly varies for each person. There is always hope.
Yes, I’m turning 70 … 70 miles an hour as I continue down the road of life, bumps and all. I have plans for the next few decades, and for me it’s full speed ahead.
Jim Arkfeld is a retired Los Banos High School teacher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.