You’ve seen the videos and you’ve read the news articles. They’re always about some older woman or guy doing something highly age-inappropriate like walking a tightrope or doing a backwards flip or swimming the English Channel with a broken arm.
Look at that! The headlines scream. Can you believe this old guy (or dame)? They’re still rockin’ after all these years!
The breathlessness, the wonder of it all always make me think of the Samuel Johnson quote after a friend reported hearing a woman preach to a Quaker congregation. “Sir,” Johnson said, “a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Precisely. Everybody’s always a little too surprised about these feats — in a patronizing kind of way. Then — even worse — they start wondering why the rest of us, who are aging a little more gently and decorously, aren’t out there storming glaciers and speed-hiking deserts.
Good grief. I didn’t survive to this age — enduring everything from adolescence to menopause, pimples to cancer — so I could go climb some damned mountain. (Sometimes, it seems, the dog doesn’t want to prance around on his or her hind legs, whether she does it well or not.) Also, I should add, I have developed a special relationship with indoor plumbing, and the two of us prefer not to be separated for long.
I think it’s fine people my age and older want to challenge themselves physically. But I’m a little exhausted reading about their exploits. Or about the 65-year-old German woman who’s now pregnant with quadruplets, bringing her sum total of children to 17.
(Even if I’m a pro-choice feminist who automatically points out that nobody raises an eyebrow when some terribly peppy 65-year-old guy trips the light fantastic into geriatric parenthood, I had to lie down and take deep breaths after that last bit of international news. Quadruplets? Seventeen children? Honey, did you ever think about giving your uterus a vacation?)
(But, as usual, I digress.)
I know I’m ranting, but I’m a little tired of the headline-grabbers and the feverish expectations and Samuel Johnson’s prancing dogs. So much of what makes a life worthwhile at my age or any age are quieter pursuits — friendship, reading, learning, kindness, empathy, concern about the world we’ll leave behind to our children and grandchildren.
Oh, sure, nobody ever writes anthems about Climb Every Elliptical or garish newspaper spreads about the amazing exploits of a 65-year-old soon-to-be-firstime grandmother. But, at my age, I’m not sure I care.
(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)
As long as you’re here, please buy my new book about aging, Pucker Up! The Subversive Woman’s Guide to Aging With Wit, Wine, Drama, Humor, Perspective, and the Occasional Good Cry