When you hit seventy, the state of California says you get an automatic pass on jury duty if you’ve got a doctor’s note. Either they think you’ve earned the right to say no, or you’re too stupid to participate. Some of us consider it a relief, although to me, it would be an insult. And I wondered.
Do you look forward to withdrawing from civic obligation, social interaction, family, and/or life in general, as you age?
Disengagement can mean anything from no longer having the big holiday parties, to staying home on Sunday and watching the Mass on TV. I recently participated in a discussion of elder social withdrawal, and everybody had a different point of view as to whether, and why, it might happen. There are probably as many opinions as there are elders.
Some felt it was due to lifelong introversion/extroversion, a pessimistic or optimistic personality, or the degree of resilience in the face of change. “If the elder is able to adapt to changing circumstances…s/he will maintain a healthy attitude right up to the end.”
These were only opinions, not scientific fact, but they resonated with all of us.
Resilience as to change is the scariest thing to me. When stupid-heads talk about extending the human lifespan, I wonder what they’re going to do to keep us from going crazy from all the change. Over my sixty-one years, I’ve seen everything from party lines to drones to home appliances that communicate via satellite. A couple days ago, I called my friend by accident from my computer. I hit a hyperlink and all of a sudden Mary Jane was saying hello from somewhere inside my laptop.
And that’s just psychology. What about the physiology of age? What if you couldn’t hear, see, or think well enough to understand the world around you?
One elder said we disengage as we age, whether intentionally or not.
I hate to think that’s true, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in all cases. I’m withdrawing, if you want to call it that. I don’t think I’ll ever go to Disneyland again, and I’m much more picky about saying yes to commitments, because I have less energy. But that’s withdrawal at age sixty-one. It’ll get worse. My mom, 90, wants to do more but she is slower. I think it’s partly because she is so curious that she’s easily distracted, but it may be more than that. Sometimes she skips events and gatherings because she doesn’t have the energy anymore. It’s just too difficult.
An elderly woman said, “Disengagement with this life may be in preparation for the next.”
Well, disengagement for its own sake isn’t that productive. If you were preparing for the next, wouldn’t you have to do something proactively, like read and learn and talk about it with others?
“It used to frighten me a little to notice that I seem to be disengaging, but no longer. Somehow I see it as nature’s way of gently leading me (toward my future).”
The ability to withdraw for periods of time might be a gift. One person said she was unexpectedly caught without anything to read at her doctor’s office, and “sat there for 25 minutes without anything but my inner life, and it was OK!” Maybe that’s another thing we get in old age: the ability to be comfortable with stillness.
“I’m not really unhappy,” said a lifelong introvert. “Just concerned sometimes that I’m abnormally withdrawn. But maybe it’s not so abnormal after all.”
Another chooses to fight: “This discussion has made me aware that I must make more effort to get involved or I AM going to just slowly fade away and I don’t like that idea.”
How does one fight old-age disengagement? The best way: having a purpose. More on that soon.