A FEW SHORT weeks ago, I did a column on “Gerascophobia.”
Yeah, I had to look it up, too.
It is, apparently, defined as “… an abnormal and persistent fear of growing old.”
Since then, a number of us have been having some occasionally philosophical, but mostly realistic, conversations, more or less on that topic, so I decided to sum up my view of it all: Maybe Chicken Little was right.
At least, sometimes, it sure feels that way.
I listen to a lot of folks who are in a lot of different circumstances throughout most of western Washington on a daily basis.
Most of them are older (“older” than what? Older than yesterday, I guess), and here’s what I’m hearing over and over: Fear.
If you stop and think about it (although few of us ever do), change isn’t something that most of us embrace with giddy enthusiasm.
Stay the same
No, most of us would like things to pretty much stay the way they are right now.
There are, of course, exceptions, such as I just had surgery four hours ago or I’m going to have surgery four hours from now, or I can’t afford to even walk by a dentist’s office and my mouth hurts too much to eat, or my daughter is moving back in with me until she can get her last tattoo paid off or … well, you get it, but most of us are pretty enamored with the status quo.
This isn’t exactly news.
For instance, the old cliché about “… the devil you know …” has been around since Paul Revere rode somewhere to warn somebody of something, depending on what version of historical improvisation one subscribes to and, likely, well before that.
So, what’s the deal?
Most of us have been around long enough to know that change is constant and inevitable, so what’s so scary about it?
Well, I certainly don’t pretend to know, nor do I pretend to be scholarly enough or philosophical enough to figure it all out, but near as I can tell, here’s what I think we all like so much about today: I’m not dead.
For the few of us who actually stop and think about it long enough to stop and think about it, not being dead is a pretty attractive thing, generally speaking.
Granted, things might not be great and maybe we don’t feel so swell. Maybe we’re worrying about how to pay for this or that, or maybe we’re getting slammed in the face by the realization that we just can’t do what we used to be able to do and that we probably aren’t going to wake up tomorrow being 30-something.
Still, we aren’t dead today, so today can look pretty good.
In my decidedly unscholarly and non-philosophical view, most of us just want to be able to handle life; to be able to do what we need to do with a minimum of pain, hassle and drama.
To be reasonably safe, reasonably comfortable, eat, pay the bills, take care of ourselves in our own ways and maybe — if we’re really lucky — love and be loved.
Pretty much everything else is just stuff.
And if you’re older, not feeling so great, all the parts don’t work, are on a permanently broken fixed income or alone … today is plenty scary enough.
Then some turkey leaves the backdoor open and Chicken Little slips in: “The Social Security Trust Fund can’t be trusted!”
“Medicare is going away!”
“Medicaid is going away!”
“Healthcare is going up and gas is going up and food is going up and electricity is going up and heat is going up and my income isn’t!”
“America isn’t great!”
“Put on a blindfold and pin-the-tail on the next war!”
“They are going to blow us all up!”
“This program that is keeping me going is going away!”
They know that fear motivates people, so because they want you to do whatever it is that they want you to do, they want you scared — whoever they are — and, unfortunately, they’ve gotten to be pretty good at it.
So we end up being so scared about tomorrow that we lose today, and that’s the scariest thing I can think of.
Sure, a lot of that bad stuff is out there and, certainly, bad things are happening.
And, of course, we need to do the best we can to try to plan, try to improve, try to be smart and, if we have opinions, by all means, express them.
But, today is still today, and we’re still able to do what we’re able to do today.
Maybe some of these changes will be for the better.
Maybe bad things will be replaced by good things.
Maybe we have to hit bottom before we can start back up, and maybe tomorrow will be better than today.
But … fear?
After everything that most of us have lived through … fear?
I know, like you know, that most of us won’t change the world, because we can’t.
Sure, we would if we could, but … so, do what?
Take back today from those who would take it from us.
Have a little faith.
Remember what courage really is.
Hold your head up, because we’re not dead and put Chicken Little on the menu for tomorrow.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].