My earliest memory about aging occurred during a car ride with my family. I was old enough to understand what was being said, yet too young to comprehend the concept of aging.
To pass the time, my mom asked my older brother, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I remember turning my little head quickly to gaze at my brother. The top of his curly brown hair was framed by the bright blue sky visible through the car window. As he began to answer, I cried out, “What do you mean grow up? We don’t grow up; we stay this age forever!”
This was the day I learned everyone ages.
I am the youngest grandchild on both my parents’ side of the family. My mom’s only sibling was 17 years older than her, my dad’s only sibling was 12 years older than him. My grandparents were ages 65, 64, 58, and 57 when I was born, and I was blessed to have all four of them as influencers in my life until age 19. My last living grandparent passed when I was age 39.
I relished the time spent with older family, hearing their stories and learning from their wisdom. And my most-treasured friendships are with people of varying ages. One of my dearest friends was age 95 years when she passed last December.
I’m a better and more enriched person because of these experiences. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks as fondly of aging.
I’m reminded of this when I tell people I lead an initiative for York County Community Foundation called Embracing Aging. The typical reactions include being shushed away with a hand, someone making a joke about aging, or someone quickly changing the subject.
We all want to live long lives. Yet most of us don’t want to think about aging and are dismayed at signs of aging in ourselves and those we love. So we rarely admit that we like anything related to aging. We automatically use words and phrases that project negativity on growing older. We settle for life as it is as we age, faced with barriers to living easily in our homes and communities. That’s not okay because it damages our sense of self, shortens our lifespan, limits our opportunities, and prevents us from thriving.
This is why I proudly work to change how people perceive and experience aging. I want to live in a community that has my back as I grow older. A community that helps me adapt and cope with changes ahead; a community that values me regardless of my decade.
Thank you to donor Anna Gardner, who nearly 110 years ago gifted her estate so that older residents can live with dignity. Her gift supports the work of Embracing Aging, and I’m honored to carry on her legacy to make York County a great place for all ages!