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How We Are Ageless

November 29, 2011

Discovering the similarities and differences between the perspectives of two unique people on age and aging is interesting, especially when you can trace these contrasts through family lines as well.

My grandpa and I had very different upbringings and we have fairly dissimilar methods so far in our approaches to life, but we are surprisingly similar in certain values and lifestyle habits. This is particularly interesting to me because we are not only related by blood, we are related by exposure because he and my grandma were very involved in raising me during the first four years of my life.

Our first encounters with the concept of hierarchies related to age are quite different but share a common thread of disbelief and hope. For me, the most vivid moment of smashing realization that adults get to do what they want is when I was five years old and eating dinner with my parents at the home of one of their friends. They served peas as a side dish, and I hated peas. Hated them. I sat for the longest time, resenting my peas, resenting them even more than usual because I knew that as company I had to eat them without complaining or risk hurting the hostess’s feelings and incurring my parents’ wrath. I ate the peas dead last, dreading their arrival during the entire meal, and then wolfed most of them down and chased them with milk.
Suddenly I noticed that our host hadn’t eaten his peas. Any of his peas. They still sat untouched on his plate in a neat little pile. His wife noticed me looking at them and began to scold him for not eating his peas, as he was setting a bad example. He just laughed, said he guessed he was a terrible person, and did not eat his peas. I was shocked and awed and marvelously impressed. This moment has stuck with me in perfect ringing clarity ever since; it is the moment that I realized what it might mean to make decisions for oneself.
For my grandpa, his moment of age related realization came at about five or six years old, when he fought a school bully named Abie Rose. Abie was bigger and tough, and for those reasons he had a lot of privileges and clout around the school. My grandpa had no concept of age related to size related to power before he accepted that fight, but it sunk into him quickly that day when he got beat up for the first time. He thinks it must not have sunk in very far, because immediately afterward he decided he could certainly beat up Abie if they fought again, and unfortunately this turned out not to be true. In my mind, however, this rejection of class assignation based on age and size marked the beginning of a lifelong trend for my grandpa, as he clearly went on to buck all sorts of norms and face down many challenges.

In the face of social norms regarding aging, we exhibited an extraordinary likeness of mind. The phrase ‘when you grow up you’ll be able to’ was naturally abhorrent to us. As two children well assured of their own ability to do absolutely anything at any time, the concept of not being able to do something until we grew some more was insulting in the very fabric of its existence. The phrase my grandpa ran up against most frequently was ‘you can try that when you’re older.’ This edict was issued in response to many situations throughout his young life, from wanting to get married at the age of six to the neighbor girl to trying to help his father work on the family car.
The ‘when you’re older’ brick wall I ran against most often was, ‘when you’re older you’ll be able to understand.’ I realize now that this was frequently the product of my parents’ desire to shelter me from the darkness in the world for as long as possible, but as I personally know that it did not work, I’m not certain that I would recommend it as an approach. There were many things I understood from the beginning of my memory that my parents assumed I had no capacity to even consider. I wish that more of my questions had been met with cold hard fact or the honest admission that they and possibly the world at large had no idea. Regardless, it is obvious that neither my grandfather or I ever thought much of the idea of having it all once we attained a certain acceptable age; both of us have continued to push this particular envelope through our lives, as we reach for our dreams unshackled by the circumstances of age and aging.

As we looked forward to our lives as they were unfolding, it is almost humorously obvious that we share certain elements of spirit as well as blood. I wrote my portion of this paper before getting his answers to avoid being influenced by them, and both of us gave the exact same one word answer to describe our eternal hope for our lives: growth.
In my life for as long as I can remember what I have craved beyond anything else is the expansion of horizon. I am constantly throwing about my elbows, creating space for myself to feel free in, blazing trails through bracken for more freedom of movement.
My grandpa has felt his entire life a desire and impetus toward forward movement. He wants to move forward all the time, and he also feels compelled to do so by a life force that is out of his control. He has been moving forward in a constant quest to prove his own life to this world.
Both of us also attach extreme value to the ability to care for our own needs. For me this amounts to security in my own self, the means with which to stroll off into the sunset at the drop of a necessary hat, the means with which to sink roots if the soil presents itself as agreeable. My grandpa has the same need to provide for himself, but he also has had others to care for since he was seventeen years old. He married at that young age, and had his first child soon after. He can say with absolute certainty that although he would have heeded the urgent call toward forward movement and growth no matter what, having a family to provide for has helped him to find the motivation and passion to turn his ideals into successful business ventures.

When I was beginning this paper I had no idea that I would find such renegade similarity between my grandfather and I. He has been such a stable and good humored provider for the entirety of my life, that I had never suspected such a rebel with causes existed within him. He is firmly convinced that as he has not grown up yet, there is no need to think about doing so now. I intend to take this mindset as another brilliant shared value to model my own concept of aging after. May we die as young as we always were.

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