Deeply unfortunate misunderstandings about being old in America …and elsewhere.
America’s been ill for a long time. This year, we’ve been able to see just how ill, as well as how ill-treated our elders are. Add color to that combination, well.
Let’s talk, shall we?
Nothing changes in our overall health as long as you and I can’t see, or more importantly, can’t feel what’s wrong. For example, you and I can walk around with cancer in our colons, ignore the warning signs, blissfully aware, until we find out the hard way.
Which is why, although they are incredibly awkward and unpleasant, regular colonoscopies are a good idea. It’s called prevention.
Still, no matter how often a cute-but-determined Katie Couric barks at us, or when we lose supremely good talent like Chadwick Boseman, we just don’t want to know. Knowledge makes us responsible. Also, if we’re talking early detection here, and all cancer survivors know whereof I speak, we’ve got a better shot at survival/thrival if we catch it early, when it’s still local.
If we motor along for years, we may end up with metastatic cancer. In other words, it moved into a whole lotta other neighborhoods.
Meta, of course, from the Latin, meaning more comprehensive.
Meaning, man, this shit is EVERYWHERE.
That is our backdrop to where we are right now, and stupid things people say and apparently believe about aging. Kindly, when we as a society at large do our best to shuttle off our sick and elderly into poorly-managed, often abusive, profit-centered places which suck the life, joy, productivity and the rest of the family money out of them, we don’t have to face ourselves. Our own futures. In effect, we are paying other gatekeepers to do the dirty work of standing witness to the the passing of our elders, while robbing society of their gifts.
Interestingly, only a very small percentage of elders end up in elder care. I will again quote the inimitable Ashton Applewhite here:
People are happiest at the beginnings and the ends of their lives. Only 2.5% of Americans over 65 live in nursing homes. Older people enjoy better mental health than the young or middle-aged. Dementia rates are falling, fast. So how come so many of us unthinkingly assume that depression, diapers, and dementia lie ahead?
We treat ALL older folks as though ALL of us suffer from diapers and dementia. And when we do, we rob the world of their gifts.
Robbing ourselves of their gifts, if you will. Stay with me here.
From a societal standpoint, this year, among some other things, we’ve been forced to perform a colonoscopy on our ass-holery as a nation around racism. Around a great many — isms if you will. Like how much we really are uncomfortable with older folks, for example.
When you have an aging asshole for a president, that invites sickness to rise to the top. It ain’t cream, either.
That’s just one gift of 2020. Covid, a very high price to pay via death, disability and devastation of our economy, is our collective colon cancer. That cancer has forced us to notice where cancers have long lived in many other societal organs, from healthcare (all healthcare, or lack thereof, in general but particularly elder care, which is an oxymoron) to our schools to our businesses to our governmental institutions.
Our hearts are also diseased if you will, if you take the pulse of the national hate-o-meter.
Like it or not, we’re being forced to see that we can be, as a nation, rather rotten assholes. Not all of us, nor all the time, but enough so that, well. We aren’t very nice to those who make us a bit uncomfortable.
Like, old folks who remind us of the Absolute Inevitability of our own aging process. We love the Ignore It and It Will Go Away practice of dealing with difficult issues.
But life IS difficult. Aging, and getting old, ARE difficult. They are meant to be, for they are among the Goddess’ greatest life lessons.
Mostly we just really dislike ourselves. Then we take that self-disgust out on others, mostly on folks who can’t fight back because the system is already rigged against them. Now we pretty much can all see just how much the system is rigged.
Okay, okay, and really? Folks wanna get back to normal. What is normal for you can be pretty fucking shitty for a whole lotta folks. Like People of Color (POC), the elderly, and most especially elderly POC.
But this isn’t a piece about race or racism per se, although race most assuredly is part of the conversation. It’s about age, ageism and racism, and the three combined, and our wilful ignorance about them. Unless of course you yourself are old, a POC, and have to live with what it’s like being old, and/or old and a POC in America. Then you have very direct experience of how Americans feel about the aged, and especially about the aged POC.
This week I got a comment on a piece I did about aging from a young man- White, of course, and a Princeton kid. By definition, Privileged, whether he knows it or not. This was my piece:
No Country for Old People
America can be a challenging place to grow old, if you hope to live long and prosper
This is his comment:
We keep voting for politicians that(sic) are pretty darn old. Most execs at large companies are pretty old. I still think we value our elders. Aging isn’t so bad as long as you’re not poor. As long as you have a little money agg (sic) looks pretty smooth.
Oh dear god save me from White, terminally-clueless Ivy League baby boys.
There are times when I am richly reminded why the saying that children are seen and not heard became popular.
To be fair, I know some pretty damned smart kids. This guy doesn’t strike me as one of them. My problem here is that this kind of Privileged White Ivy League Boy (PWILB) often comes from same, gets married and has a kid who becomes another PWILB, which perpetuates both ignorance and attitudes that allow the collective colon cancer of American — isms to remain in place.
And people wonder why folks march. Well, kindly.
Marches are a country’s colonoscopies, thank you. They force you and me to take a snapshot of what’s inside us, growing, ugly, doing damage to the body politic. To those parts of us which we either don’t understand or ignore, to our peril.
Without unrest no nation can evolve, for invariably something is always wrong with the body politic. That’s not a bad thing. It’s the nature of humanity. We evolve or die, as individuals, in marriages, communities, states, nations and the Earth as a whole.
Because a nation, like the earth, like the ocean or a little garden or our bodies, we are all parts of a living, breathing organism. You may not know or care what your pancreas does but you damned sure will if it gets cancer.
In precisely the same way an entire planet gets sick because of sick animal consumption practices at a tiny wet market in Wuhan, China.
You get my point. We are all of us connected so intricately that we are hardly beginning to understand (outside certain esoteric beliefs, and increasingly, science, that is).
That is why when we ignore, or hurt, or damage parts of humanity, be they POC or indigenous peoples, or kids (sold into sex slavery for example, which includes child marriage in America) or our elderly, we hurt ourselves.
We cannot separate ourselves from our children (including other peoples’ kids, although we sure did a nifty job of showing the world how to do that at our borders). However, I would REALLY like the clergy to separate themselves from our children, but that’s another issue entirely.
Talk about assholery. But I digress.
We cannot separate ourselves from the elderly. What we subject them to, we ensure for ourselves. The Goddess is most generous with her lessons.
Some countries and societies don’t make it, just like a lot of us don’t. Well, look, none of us gets out alive in the end but we might as well enjoy more of the journey, if you will. The way I see it, the harder we work to ensure that others- and that would include all the creatures we share this marble with- enjoy the journey, the better off we will all be. That’s not ensured just by money. If anything, the chasing after and hoarding of money at the expense of all those things which are priceless are precisely what got us here today.
Nobody wins, and that would include our Earth, if things don’t change. Just like your invisible colon cancer will kill you off in ugly ways if you don’t deal with it. The status quo only works for a very few, of which PWILB is a part.
PWILB is an example of how we perpetuate the status quo. I’m sure he’s determined to end up White and Rich. If he’s fortunate, he also might end up old, White and rich.
At that point he might well discover what so many of my fellow aging writers and commenters have to say about how it ain’t just about the money.
The idea is that all anyone needs as we age is a little money is breathtakingly wrong and heart-stoppingly ignorant. Having money in and of itself, shy of folks living in poverty (and that’s another issue, over my pay grade), guarantees nothing. Just, NOTHING, other than a relative level of physical comfort.
Away from relatives, in some cases, which could be a good or a bad thing. As with all of life, it depends.
In previous articles I’ve addressed what young women, working as house cleaners or nannies, have had to say about the lives of the aristocracy in England or the uber-rich in America. Granted, this is the other end of the bell curve, but in a nation where we wholeheartedly believe that More is Better (Jeff Bezos, anyone?), it’s an object lesson in the ultimate truth that money doesn’t buy you love.
The older you and I get, if we are fortunate, the more we realize that money is not the end all be all, but a means to an end. A relative level of comfort, if you will, staving off starvation or cold, for example. The basics of Maslow’s Hierarchy.
However, as the landed gentry discover to their dismay, no amount of glittering gems will bring them respect, regard, loyalty, good company, laughter and the richness of friendship and community as they become decrepit, irritable, needy and diminished.
This is how loneliness kills us in old age.
Just What Older People Didn't Need: More Isolation
The coronavirus pandemic could sharpen the health risks of loneliness. But there are ways to connect. At midmorning…
The promise of riches is an empty, cankered promise. There is no richness in a dusty mansion full of empty rooms, ever needing upkeep. Pricey pillow cushions, while comfy, don’t hug back.
Ono top of that, in that nasty-funny way that the Goddess is determined to get our attention, there is no place the uber rich can now go that isn’t going underwater, losing its wildlife to bad water or air, burning down or otherwise completely fucked up. Often, by them or their families’ legacy.
The Goddess will get our attention one way or the other.
If you and I can’t develop a modicum of common sense about self-care, caring about others, caring about our elders, caring about animals and our Earth she will burn us fucking down.
She can recreate Herself with no help from us. If anything, we have a sad habit of interfering, rather than cooperating with the Goddess.
Part of the immensely difficult work of Being Human is to witness and assist in the passage of our elders. I wrote a story about how this looks in practice, when that sacred work is done well:
I Breathed in the Last of Her Life
I had missed the text. My friend Sonja has been sitting vigil with her aged mother for months. Every day, all day…
I was estranged from my parents when my father died. Moved back to Colorado to assist my mother. This is the very definition of what it means to be human.
We are losing our humanity. Nowhere is this more self-evident in how we treat our aged. We hide what we fear, and we run from the great Goddess work that is before us. All in the name of convenience, profit, money.
As you and I may eventually find out in the hardest possible way, ultimately money doesn’t make much difference. People either care about you or they don’t. Even our PWILB above will find out that in the final run, he can have a gold-plated respirator at his beck and call.
It’s still a respirator, Sparky.
Love is Goddess work. Bearing witness to and alleviating the pain of getting very old, diminishing and passing on to our next journey is the greatest of our Goddess work. For this is how the Goddess best teaches us to care for ourselves, to be mindful of our limited time, and to honor and revere those with whom we share this tiny bubble bouncing through Eternity.
This is how the Goddess makes us rich.
Originally published at https://www.walkaboutsaga.com on September 24, 2020.