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That "Five-Letter" Word

Nobody wants to talk about…you know…that topic…(psst…soft whisper…). Did you get it? No? OK, get ready. It's "aging." You know…aging…Yes…AGING! OMG - did I just lose you? Let me start over, please.

Boomers readily admit to aches, pains, meds and memory problems - the organ recital approach to that five-letter word - but after that, it's Change. The. Subject. Whew. That was close. Who's in the playoffs this year? Did you see what that woman was wearing? I'm fine, thank you. Certainly better than the alternative - yuk yuk.

OK. I get it. For nearly all of recorded history, aging stunk. It was grim, scary, and hopeless. Really bad things happened once you couldn't work any more. Leave the old in the forest; house them in the chicken coop. What good are they? As a result, we have an almost instinctual dread of aging - of watching the fenders, hubcaps, handles and lights fall off the old car, which is then abandoned for junk. No one wants that!

So, we take the other approach to that five-letter word - the legendary Boomer DENIAL. You know, we'll conquer aging with exercise, nutrition, attitude, great trips, new relationships, and more sex. It won't get me. Thanks for the blog, see you later…not. You see, it turns out that if you keep living, you're gonna have that "five-letter" experience. You know, things will sag and stuff will happen. How many prescriptions are you on now? I'm up to four. Yikes.

But I want to turn the conversation around to a third approach. What if there was another kind of aging where the emphasis was on the growing not the growing old. What if the unprecedented longevity now extending our horizons represents a new stage of human development? Certainly a lot of us are going to pass through this stage - after all, ten thousand folks a day turn 65! - but the real question is what will this stage look like?

Do you remember earlier developmental stages in your life, like starting school, beginning to date, your first job, having a family? Each stage had its own unique challenges, tasks and gifts. And each stage was incredibly meaningful and important to who you became. I believe that this new aging offers these same possibilities. But they probably won't happen if you're too busy avoiding the topic.

For example, I've been getting older guys to create mentoring groups to talk about what's really happening in their lives. We leave career bragging, sports, politics and sexual conquests outside the door. And you know what? They begin to talk…about the stress of competitive careers, anxiety about retirement, feelings of insignificance after retirement, financial worries, the need for real friends, the pain of losing others, and concerns about physical decline and death. But they also talk about happy things…time for themselves, new family relationships, emerging hobbies and creativity, the unfinished projects of life, and a longing to contribute to the world as elders. And by the way, their wives are usually really happy about their husbands’ new group, for they see a happier guy and no longer feel so responsible for “fixing” his depression.

You see, this kind of transformation could never happen in the denial mode. You have to face the good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the longing, the disappointment, and the achievements in order to grow yourself. And grow you will. No one really knows what this new stage of life will bring, but let's do it together - the ride is so much more fun in the same car even when the fenders fell off fifty miles down the road. Aging is not the enemy, it is the road ahead.

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