Why is our response to aging and the old so intensely negative?
According to Lynn Casteel Harper, a chaplain to a retirement community, here is the answer:
“Older people expose what is true for people of all ages. We are vulnerable and finite…Elders point to our shared fate as living creatures — to slow up, to wind down, to die. It comes as little surprise that a society so phobic about the subject of death (people “pass,” no one seems to “die”) so readily dismiss those people we see as closest to death — old people. However, we know that not just older people die. We are all vulnerable, at any moment…Coming to terms with finitude is the ongoing struggle of the human spirit; it is soul work. To attempt to live meaningfully with the awareness of our mortality is work marked by courage…” (You can read her entire essay here.)
Dr. Kathryn Zerbe, eating disorders specialist, says much the same thing. “In our mothers’ generation, there was acceptance that your body wasn’t going to look the same at 50 as it did at 25. Today there’s not.” She goes on to say that extreme efforts to maintain youth “…is a way of trying to skirt the issue of aging and mortality.”
According to Rev. Harper and Dr. Zerbe, then, much of what we do to “look young” is based on fear of dying. So here’s my question: what if we weren’t afraid of dying? How much more richly would we live?