Aging: Cultural or Individual?

It seems to me that the French age more gracefully and are less obsessed about it, although a lot of beauty and anti-wrinkle creams are French-brand commodities and big business! So, after I read the below article (sent to me in an email by a friend), I wondered if Ms. Ephron’s viewpoints were a more American-culture concept, or the exception? Comments appreciated!

Following is an excerpt (albeit long) from a poignant article written by Nora Ephron, who died recently at age 71. She was the award-winning screenwriter whose credits include When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless In Seattle. In recent years, she also wrote two books of witty and poignant essays about aging. Here, she faces her own mortality.

Article:
‘The honest truth is that it’s sad to be over 60,’ said Nora Ephron. When I turned 60, I had a big birthday party in Las Vegas , which happens to be one of my top five places. We spent the weekend eating and drinking and gambling and having fun. We all made some money and screamed and yelled and I went to bed deliriously happy. The spell lasted for several days, and as a result, I managed to avoid thinking about what it all meant.

Denial has been a way of life for me for many years. I actually believe in denial. It seemed to me that the only way to deal with a birthday of this sort was to do everything possible to push it from my mind.

Nothing else about me is better than it was at 50, or 40, or 30, but I definitely have the best haircut I’ve ever had, I like my new apartment, and, as the expression goes, consider the alternative.

I have been 60 for four years now, and by the time you read this I will probably have been 60 for five. I survived turning 60, I was not thrilled to turn 61, I was less thrilled to turn 62, I didn’t much like being 63, I loathed being 64, and I will hate being 65. I don’t let on about such things in person; in person, I am cheerful and Pollyanna-ish. But the honest truth is that it’s sad to be over 60.

The long shadows are everywhere friends dying and battling illness. A miasma of melancholy hangs there, forcing you to deal with the fact that your life, however happy and successful, has been full of disappointments and mistakes, little ones and big ones. There are dreams that are never quite going to come true, ambitions that will never quite be realised. There are, in short, regrets.

Edith Piaf was famous for singing a song called ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. It’s a good song. I know what she meant. I can get into it; I can make a case that I regret nothing. After all, most of my mistakes turned out to be things I survived, or turned into funny stories, or, on occasion, even made money from. But the truth is that je regrette beaucoup.

Why do people say it’s better to be older than to be younger? It’s not better. Even if you have all your marbles, you’re constantly reaching for the name of the person you met the day before yesterday. Even if you’re in great shape, you can’t chop an onion the way you used to and you can’t ride a bicycle several miles without becoming a candidate for traction. If you work, you’re surrounded by young people who are plugged into the marketplace, the demographic, the zeitgeist; they want your job and someday soon they’re going to get it. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a sexual relationship, you’re not going to have the sex you once had.

Plus, you can’t wear a bikini. Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.

A magazine editor called me the other day, an editor who, like me, is over 60. Her magazine was going to do an issue on Age, and she wanted me to write something for it. We began to talk about the subject, and she said, ‘You know what drives me nuts? Why do women our age say, “In my day…”? This is our day.’

But it isn’t our day. It’s their day. We’re just hanging on. We can’t wear tank tops, we have no idea who 50 Cent is, and we don’t know how to use almost any of the functions on our mobile phones. If we hit the wrong button on the remote control and the television screen turns to snow, we have no idea how to get the television set back to where it was in the first place. (This is the true nightmare of the empty nest: your children are gone, and they were the only people in the house who knew how to use the remote control.) Technology is a b***h. I can no longer even work out how to get the buttons on the car radio to play my favourite stations. The gears on my bicycle mystify me. On my bicycle!
And thank God no one has given me a digital wristwatch. In fact, if any of my friends are reading this, please don’t ever give me a digital anything.

Just the other day I went shopping at a store in Los Angeles that happens to stock jeans that actually come all the way up to my waist, and I was stunned to discover that the customer just before me was Nancy Reagan. That’s how old I am: Nancy Reagan and I shop in the same store.

Anyway, I said to this editor, ‘You’re wrong, you are so wrong, this is not our day, this is their day.’ But she was undaunted. She said to me, ‘Well then, I have another idea: Why don’t you write about Age Shame?’ I said to her, ‘Get someone who is only 50 to write about Age Shame. I am way past Age Shame, if I ever had it. I’m just happy to be here at all.’

We are a generation that has learned to believe we can do something about almost everything. We are active hell, we are proactive. We are positive thinkers. We have the power. We will take any suggestion seriously. If a pill will help, we will take it. If being in the Zone will help, we will enter the Zone. When we hear about the latest ludicrously expensive face cream that is alleged to turn back the clock, we will go out and buy it even though we know that the last five face creams we fell for were completely ineffectual. We will do crossword puzzles to ward off Alzheimer’s and eat six almonds a day to ward off cancer; we will scan ourselves to find whatever can be nipped in the bud.

We are in control. Behind the wheel. On the cutting edge. We make lists. We seek out the options. We surf the net. But there are some things that are absolutely, definitively, entirely uncontrollable.

I am dancing around the D word, but I don’t mean to be coy. When you cross into your 60s, your odds of dying or of merely getting horribly sick on the way to dying spike. Death is a sniper. It strikes people you love, people you like, people you know, it’s everywhere. You could be next. But then you turn out not to be. But then again you could be. And meanwhile, your friends die, and you’re left not just bereft, not just grieving, not just guilty, but utterly helpless. There is nothing you can do. Nothing. Everybody dies.

Here are some questions I am constantly fretting over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live 20 more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really going to have to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread is so unbelievably delicious? And what about chocolate?

A few months before they found the lump on her tongue, Judy and I went out to lunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It had been a difficult year: barely a week had passed without some terrible news about someone’s health.

‘Death doesn’t really feel eventual or inevitable. It still feels…avoidable somehow,’ said Judy. I said at lunch, what are we going to do about this? Shouldn’t we talk about this? This is what our lives have become. Death is everywhere. How do we deal with it? Our birthday friend said, oh, please, let’s not be morbid. Yes. Let’s not be morbid. Let’s not.

On the other hand, I meant to have a conversation with Judy about death. Before either of us was sick or dying. I meant to have one of those straightforward conversations where you discuss What You Want in the eventuality well, I say ‘the eventuality’, but that’s one of the oddest things about this whole subject. Death doesn’t really feel eventual or inevitable. It still feels . . . avoidable somehow. But it’s not. We know in one part of our brains that we are all going to die, but on some level we don’t quite believe it. But I meant to have that conversation with Judy, so that when the inevitable happened we would know what our intentions were, so that we could help each other die in whatever way we wanted to die. And what difference would it have made if we’d had that conversation? Before you get sick, you have absolutely no idea of how you’re going to feel once you do. You can imagine you’ll be brave, but it’s just as possible you’ll be terrified. You can hope that you’ll find a way to accept death, but you could just as easily end up raging against it.

And meanwhile, here we are. What is to be done? I don’t know. I hope that’s clear. In a few minutes I will have finished writing this piece, and I will go back to life itself. Squirrels have made a hole in the roof, and we don’t quite know what to do about it. Soon it will rain; we should probably take the cushions inside. I need more bath oil.

And that reminds me to say something about bath oil. I use this bath oil I happen to love. It’s called Dr Hauschka’s lemon bath. It costs about £15 a bottle, which is enough for about two weeks of baths if you follow the instructions. The instructions say one capful per bath. But a capful gets you nowhere. A capful is not enough. I have known this for a long time.

But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine. After I take a bath, my bathtub is as dangerous as an oil slick. But thanks to the bath oil, I’m as smooth as silk. I am going out to buy more, right now. Goodbye.”  ###

Your thoughts ??

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