Looking Again at Aging

From a talk by Tim Jackins at the West Coast USA Reference Persons’ Workshop, January 2004

Those of us who have been in RC for decades are getting older. Many societies direct a large amount of discouragement toward people as they age. People are poorly treated when the societies can no longer find a way to exploit them, can no longer get as big a profit margin off their efforts. Pushing up the retirement age isn’t just to save money for the social security system.1 It’s also to keep a pool of excess labor around.

Capitalism keeps nibbling at the edges of everyone’s life all the time. The discouragement our societies put out infects all of us. We know better, but that hasn’t taken care of it because we haven’t done the necessary discharging on the distresses. Many of us also feel discouraged because we had the best chance of anybody we knew and yet we feel we didn’t do what we should have done—didn’t make it far enough, didn’t fight the battles we should have been able to fight. We should have, should have, should have, and now it’s too late. Deflate.

Of course none of that is true. It isn’t true that we should have done differently. Given the conditions we came through, given what we’ve known and the resources we’ve had, we have moved the world forward a good measure. There is no fault to be found in what we’ve done, and it’s not true in any sense that our choices are over.

The discouragement societies aim at older people is something we have to challenge. It’s part of elders’ oppression. In particular, we have to challenge it here in the RC Community. Otherwise we won’t get to fight for the lives we want. You reach some age, and you’re supposed to give up. However, in whatever condition you find your life, it’s never useful to give up fighting for what you want, and for that desire to be big. Though it’s different at each age and in each culture, societies have  always conditioned us to think smaller than our minds naturally think.

We absorb messages and distresses about aging, about getting old, from the first moments of being around other people. These messages confuse us. What everyone needs is to be thought about in terms of the condition he or she is in at the moment. For any age you pick, you can find great variation within it. We need to think about the particular individual, where he or she is physically, and with what distresses he or she is struggling.

We give up on having as much life as we could. (It can seem hard to choose anything other than giving up. Who will understand and support our decision?) We give up in ways that shorten our lives. You see children questioning this. They see the giving-up on our faces, and their question is, “Are you going to die?” We’ve thought they were trying to figure out if death was inevitable or if they were safe. I think they’re also questioning the discouragement about life that shows on us. I think their question really is, “Are you going to give up and die?” My best answer so far is, “I don’t intend to die. It may well happen, but I don’t intend it to. It is not my intention to die.”

I’m quite sure that the mind can stay clear and active for a long, long time, and I think the body can go far beyond what we have seen. A fair number of people still hit2 a hundred and twenty, and they’re often people who have led hard lives.

We need to work on physical distresses more consistently than most of us have. I’ve noticed that many of us don’t work easily on physical distresses. We don’t remember that it might be important. I think it is, and I work on these distresses fairly often. (For me, aging has gone pretty well so far. Things are not deteriorating at the expected rate. I’m pushing too much paper,3 and sitting and talking far too much, but that seems to be part of my job. It can leave me feeling less deft because I’m not doing things to challenge my coordination.)

An interesting and encouraging discovery in the last couple of years is that new nerves are being created all the time in our brains. Like the rest of our body, whatever we use gets rebuilt or reinforced, and new things appear. Apparently, if we are actually thinking and discovering new things, if life is still opening up, it pushes our minds enough that the nerve regeneration continues. Our patterns, of course, slow us down.

In January 2004 I retired as a college teacher. I had spent thirty-three years teaching, and loved it. I’m retired now and have a pension. Soon there’s going to be a large squad of experienced RCers in our sixties, some of us on pensions and with more unrestricted time than we’ve ever had before in our lives. We’ll get a little bit of unintended slack from society. It will be the first time we’ve had a large crew of us like that. We need to use this new development and the possibilities it will create. Think of what we’ll be able to do together as a crew! Put that in your mind when you feel hopeless and like you no longer have choices!

We’re supposed to be nearly comatose at this point; the pension is supposed to get us through our final declining years. However, the fact that we know how to not get lost with the accumulation of distresses makes things entirely different for us. We are in a position to challenge what society does to people as they age. We have possibilities no one has ever had before. Our children are grown, we’ve made some sort of arrangement with our partners, and we know something—we know something really powerful. And we’re getting into position to use it.

Don’t think you get to give up. You don’t ever get to give up. Just think of what you get to do with this odd little unintended opening. Are you ready to spend two months somewhere using your experience, attention, and resource to develop a new RC Area? I’ll have a job for you. 

1The social security system is a U.S. government program in which workers contribute a portion of their earnings to the system throughout their working lives. At some point, after age sixty-two, workers retire and reclaim these funds, which are paid to them on a monthly basis throughout their retirement years.
2 In this context, hit means reach.
3 Pushing too much paper means spending too much time sitting at a desk doing paperwork

Last modified: 2014-09-18 15:46:35+00