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A Flower For You From The Compost Heap

April 20, 2010

Today I want to write about olderphobia, and its cure. I define olderphobia as a fear of growing older, or a fear of older people. But I repeat myself.

You and I are living in a culture so saturated with olderphobia, it’s like the air we breathe. When a 50 year old on the cover of a magazine (or a 40 year old; or younger) has the wrinkles or bags under their eyes airbrushed away; whenever we dye our hair; or comb it over; or nip and tuck, that’s olderphobia.

Even when we make an innocuous comment like “You look great, for your age!” which is only meant to compliment someone, that’s olderphobia. (Imagine, if you would, saying to a black person “You’re pretty smart, for a Negro” and you’ll get what I’m talking about. In both cases our inference is the same: being what you are lowers my expectations of you.)

Whenever we view ageing as a kind of failure, that’s olderphobia. But in reality, growing older is a success. I mean – consider the alternative! 

However I can understand why so many desperately resist letting go of their youth, as they simply don’t know there’s anything else of value to reach for. I myself held on to the youth-trapeze so long, I almost ended up dangling there in limbo.

I hated my graying, my balding, my slowing. I kept looking in the mirror with the young man in me carping “How on earth could you let this happen?!” I was so busy mourning the death of youth I neglected to notice there was a wise old man slowly emerging in the unwelcome contours of my countenance. He was beginning to make his way to the surface, unbeknownst to me, and beyond my control, like the ageing process itself. All my decades of experience (and as of today, there are 6.1 of them) were beginning to ripen into something I never expected.

When I finally started letting go of the youth-trapeze, I could grab on to the elder-trapeze and keep swinging.

Or to put it another way — like biodegradable newsprint, all the thousands of daily editions of my life were turning into mulch.

All the crap I’ve been through (and mine isn’t any worse than anyone else’s) has turned into compost — a rich soil which, over time, began to bring forth flowers, gifts for others that they cannot grow themselves, yet.

For me this began happening a third of my life ago when I turned 40 and decided to become a psychotherapist. Since it’s true the best therapy occurs when the therapist can help a client across terrain he or she has already traversed, the day I made that career decision was the day that all I’d gone through was transformed into something of use. I discovered that I had a garden I could till right there inside of me. When it comes to ageing, this has turned out to be far more satisfying than fighting against nature.

For you (as you may already know) it could happen the day your first child is born. Or your first niece or nephew. Or the day you hire someone to work a job you yourself have done. You too have your own compost heap, and others in your life who could use the tulips.

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