The Case for Healthy Denial

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Corner of Retirement and GolfMy friends are reaching birthday numbers they thought they’d never have to cope with, taking up Causes or Yoga, planning retirement, talking about their portfolios, their golf game and their cholesterol.  They’re also burying their parents, becoming rich and Republican, having grandchildren and heart attacks – and oddest of all, they’re calling themselves Seniors.

How weird is that? Why would you label yourself something that nobody wants to be?

I realize I might be out of step with all this labeling business because age never really entered my mind until recently – but now having considered it, I’ve rejected the whole concept.  I’m thinking I may, like Merlin, grow younger as I add birthdays, or I may just remain forever in the middle, having been suspended in an age-warp that’s at least familiar and negotiable.  Middle Age seems to have no clear lines of demarcation anymore, so maybe, if I’m lucky, it will just blur into Old Age in a sort of happy denial that’s not only amorphous but graceful.  Is it possible that’s what aging gracefully has always been about and I just didn’t know it til now?

Decisions are different at this age than at 35… less fearsome, less life-and-death critical to those I love, less dense with life-long consequences.  And life-long is somewhat shorter than it used to be.  I’m also old enough to know how precious every single day of life really is and how important that I appreciate the gift and use it well.    

Denial Manifesto

birthday cakeSo, I’ve concluded that Healthy Denial about aging is the only solid course from here on in.  Denying the significance of what you can’t change anyway at least allows a sort of cheeky conviviality with whatever the Fates night have in store.  And maybe even a sense of adventure about it.

I have a conviction that 60 doesn’t make one a Senior, that labels of any kind are seldom a good idea, that the only label I get a kick out of is grown-up and I feel that one’s well-deserved.  I can tell I’m not young anymore, of course, because people have started telling me I look youthful (no one ever says that to the young!), men are less quick to open doors, and the younger generation, iPads in hand, knows the answers to everything, while I’m left pondering bigger and bigger questions.  I also have no clue who that aging woman is who stares back at me from the mirror at a spirit that isn’t a day over 38. So I’m not saying things haven’t changed, I’m just saying they’ve evolved, not drawn lines in the sand that need labeling.

I also find I don’t like being pandered to as a demographic.  All those pointedly silver-haired smiling people in TV commercials are more annoying than enticing.  Skinny people with flowing silver mops and teeth so white they look like Chiclets, smiling vacuously or sitting in bathtubs waiting to have sex, are neither believable nor sexy.

Maybe Real Change is Larger than Labels

Grown Up LabelThere have been changes of course.  I graciously allow myself eccentricities I would have thought improper while young… I speak my mind in ways I might have thought impolite a decade or two ago, but in a world of 140 character communication maybe that’s just a timesaver.

Solidly of the company of grown-ups, I no longer wonder if with sufficient diet and exercise Someone Wonderful will love the sorrows of my changing face, as the lovestruck Mr. Yeats did Maude Gonne’s.  But oddly, for the first time in my life as a romantic, I think that’s mostly OK.  Not because I don’t think love is the best idea God ever had, but because I’ve lived to learn that no great love is infinitely better than the wrong great love.  And the love of family, friends and one goofy-but-dignified dog, is remarkably tender and fulfilling.

Timelessness is Outside the Box

I’ve lived life somewhat inside-out, now that I think of it… old, when I was young, then spring and summer flying by, and I too busy raising children, making my husband happy, staying thin and alive, building a business, writing books, battling the great issues of life and death we all do, to pay close attention to the change of seasons.  Maybe that’s what Middle Age is all about – a time to see the shifting landscape as a gentle and gradual morphing to be taken as it comes, one experience at a time, just as we did with childhood, young womanhood, wifehood, motherhood, and all the rest, so when Old Age settles in it won’t be a shock, so much as another of life’s inevitable unfoldments we’ve grown strong enough to cope with, and perhaps, even cherish.

Woman with Arms Out to the SunThis much I know for certain now:

Life is too complex to fit in boxes… too monumental for labels to be entrusted with the tale… too hard-won to be slighted by silly imagery, caricature or facile characterization.  So I’m saying no to Senior and yes to Healthy Denial because it seems to me that the very best gift of Age is the ability to choose for yourself who you’ve grown up to be.

© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012

Posted on November 30th 2012 in Life, Women

6 Responses to “The Case for Healthy Denial”

  1. John Franchi Says:

    I have long been in denial and will continue even more so now thanks to your reaffirmation
    Thanks enjoy your writing

  2. Cathy Says:

    Thanks for the affirmation, John…I think we’re both on to something with this Denial concept. Delighted to know I’m not alone in enjoying the peace it provides!

  3. Gerry Says:

    I did literally LOL at this column. The only time I refer to myself as a Senior is if I am getting a discount at the movies or a restaurant. And as far as being a “Grown Up”, unfortunately, I have become a “Grown Out”. But, fortunately, I am in denial about that. 🙂

  4. Cathy Says:

    I love “Grown Out”, it seems wonderfully open-ended! I think this Denial thing really has a lot going for it.

  5. Jean Rich Says:

    Dear Cathy,

    I always love your wonderful words… are such an exceptional writer……like none I’ve ever known.And you are such an exceptional woman…I am so glad you are my dear friend.


  6. Cathy Says:

    Thank you from the heart, my dear Jeannie. I feel just the same way about our long and dear friendship. Love, Cathy

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