|Creative Aging for Boomers
Demographically, baby boomers have
already lived much longer than most of our great-grandparents. Thanks to
modern medicine, we have survived childbirth and childhood diseases that
would have killed off many of us in earlier eras. Now, suddenly, baby boomers
are facing en masse a new longevity that few survivors previously attained.
Since those born after World War
II are now in their sixties; many are reclaiming The 60’s as their own,
in some resonant echo with the 60’s in which they came of age. The sixties
are the new forties, I hear. But I think of grandmothers, worn out and
surrendered to old age at forty. My mother at seventy thought of herself
as thirty-five, despite longstanding aches and pains. Nearly seventy, I
think of myself as seventy, with few aches and pains, at present. (Thanks,
In approaching my eighth decade,
I contemplate the years ahead and behind. So far, so good. To surrender
ambition, competitiveness, greed: how freeing. I have spent the allotted
lifetime of three score and ten, accumulating, accomplishing, gathering.
And now the work is in letting go, shedding, prepared at any point to surrender
How do we learn letting go, surrendering
the unnecessary, the outmoded, that which is not useful? How do we live
completely in the moment, so that we no longer live in dread of our spouse’s
illness, our own? How do we age creatively? How do we grow up without the
wisdom of older guides? How do we mature into elderhood, with so few signposts
to guide us?
Neoteny, the expanded time for growing
up that our culture allows, is a word that I have lately been examining.
“Neoteny is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously
seen only in juveniles.” Croning may begin at fifty these days. What new
possibilities begin at seventy, at eighty and on? We know all too well
what diminishes, and what ends.
How are we to grow into creative
aging, with so few pointers? Since we’ve thrown away or lost ancient traditions
that might have helped, we need to draw our own maps, our own definitions
of maturity. What is an elder? Can we define the term, or do we need to
live the question into our own answers, as Rilke suggests in Letters to
a Young Poet:
“…have patience with everything
unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as
if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.
Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because
you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will
gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
Sherry Ruth Anderson’s Ripening
Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace is a remarkable exploration of
this new territory of personal growth. Anderson’s book is both her own
journey into elderhood and a guidebook that brings the reader along as
a friend whom she invites into her garden. Having written such formative
books as The Feminine Face of God and The Cultural Creatives, Anderson
is well qualified to articulate the first steps toward elderhood. She is
adept at tracing the social implications of her own investigation as it
reflects cultural changes. Her personal is indeed political.
Anderson’s own questions, ponderings
and fears remain, but now she begins to live the possibilities of elderhood.
P. 83: “Almost always, when I feel
my fear open up like this, something unexpected happens… my familiar sense
of self has shifted into a deep calm and stability. I feel sober and mature,
steady as a mountain and at the same time quite spacious and relaxed. The
sensibility is of one ancient and wise.
All of this is quite paradoxical.
I feel empty… containing all possibilities— so unformed I’m no longer caught
in my yesterdays; so free I’m miles of sky with no clouds.
Will I ever get over how experience
changes when I don’t run away from it? Here my fears about getting old
and losing my mind have opened to a new sense of maturity… that ancient
calm wisdom… the perspective of an elder, I wonder?”
In her inquiry, Anderson quotes
some renowned elders. Mary Daly in her seminal Gyn/ecology writes: “‘We
knit, knot, interlace, entwine, whirl and twirl…’ And what women found,
she said, was a place to develop their integrity and ways to break the
spell of the culture’s clocks.” As theologian Nelle Morton mused, “we were
hearing ourselves into speech.”
What can we learn from the process
of creative aging? What wisdom can we claim? Anderson is never content
to keep her own findings to herself. She has developed elder circles across
the continent. In group dyads, she poses such questions as “Tell me a way
you deny your experience of diminishment.” “What’s it like to feel that
denial now?” “What are the gifts reserved for age?” She listens to the
responses and invites us into a deeper hearing of one another.
Anderson presents “a new perspective
on aging, inviting the reader to engage the aging process through the art
of inner inquiry. This work guides beyond our culture's mind traps through
stories where elders face into the lies, the losses and endings, the tender
and bittersweet and ferocious truths of growing old.”
May we too long continue to explore
on all levels, inner and outer.
May our histories be recalled. May
we all remember
the right role of elders: to listen,
to be heard, to be held
in respect. To hold on. To let go.
To be held.
For further exploration, see Ripening
Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace by Sherry Ruth Anderson. Changemakers
Books, 2013. ISBN 978-1-78099-963-0, www.sherryruthandersoncom
See also Jean Shinoda Bolen’s www.millionthcircle.org/JSB/mc.html.
Highly recommended is activist Judy Rebick’s transformative book, Transforming
Power: From the Personal to the Political, www.transformingpower.ca/en/about-book.
- Penn Kemp
writer-in-residence for Creative
Aging Festival, London
go back to Art
in Society # 14, Contents