HELP LINE: Take life as a gift and grab it

WOW, I FEEL vaguely … deficient.

There’s a new thing to be afraid of (well, new to me) and I’d completely missed the whole thing.

Are you ready?

“Gerascophobia” (yeah, I had to look it up, too).

It is, apparently, defined as “… an abnormal and persistent fear of growing old.”

The definition goes on: “Sufferers of this fear experience undue anxiety about aging even though they may be in good health physically, economically and otherwise. They may worry about the loss of their looks, the loss of independence, inactivity after retirement, impaired mobility, the onset of disease and confinement in a nursing home. Modern society’s preoccupation with youthful beauty does nothing to alleviate their fears.”

Wow, I had no idea.

And, frankly, this unanticipated “eureka” experience forces me to confront the fact that I’ve been going on about help for more years than most of us care to remember, which has probably only poured metaphorical gasoline on the house fire.

I’m sorry.

And I certainly don’t mean to demean or diminish this fear, if you happen to have it — phobias are real and they are no fun if you happen to be the one that they’re happening to.

It has never occurred to me that aging was something to be afraid of. Be as prepared, as possible, yes. But afraid? I never thought the thought.

I guess I’ve always conceptualized aging, elderhood or whatever as the natural order of things — the next phase, for those of us blessed enough to attain it.

“Aging is not an affliction — it’s an achievement!” I love to say. Forward.

I mean, I don’t recall the other phases of life being a walk in the park.

Doubt me? Consider high school. Or your 20s of 30s.

All the “near-misses.”

All the “… by the grace of Gods …”

All the stupefying idiocy that most of us narrowly managed or elude.

Those of us who are still here are lucky to be alive.

And the losses and the tragedies … I don’t recall any of it being easy.

But I do recall joy, exhilaration, magic, discovery, love, fulfillment and, simply, wonder. I recall standing in awe of how it all works. Who knew? Who could have known?

It was magic.

I guess that I just always assumed (correction: am assuming) that it would be the same in the later years.

It’s a mixed bag, in the realm of the relative: some bad, certainly but so much good. A bit more experience, a bit more wisdom, a lot more context. It’s worth savoring.

True, the big, red “S’s” on our chests that sustained us through all those near-misses might be a bit faded and, true: It might behoove us to devote a bit more attention to our physical, emotional, mental and economical health, but isn’t that what learning is about? Wisdom? Experience?

If everything were always fine, how would we know when anything was fine? Or, amazing? Or … loving?

How would we know?

But I think I’m dancing on the brink of spirituality here, which is not a dance I’m qualified to attempt. I’m only sharing my own, somewhat celestially, optimistic view of it all.

Change always brings anxiety and, of course, courage is not the absence of fear. Still, what choice do we have?

Wouldn’t we be better served to choose to go into it (correction: stay in it) with a smile, a shrug and a whispered, “Well, this should be a trip …”?

I realize that fear has become fashionable, if not commonplace, and I realize that fear motivates.

I also realize that courage can motivate.

In fact, I think, courage can define: who I am, who I choose to be and what I can yet become.

What I can take from the totality of the experience.

And what I was able to bring.

I understand that if you truly suffer from gerascophobia, none of this makes any difference because phobias aren’t rational (but they are real and they are treatable), so I doubt that I’ve done anything to help you.

I’m sorry. I wish I could.

But for the rest of us, I think that a little dose of encouragement and courage might go a long way.

And a little dose of joy might go a lot farther.

“Take the money and run!” the song goes.

Grab today and wring the hell out of it.

After all, it’s the gift that was given to us, and it’s ours to do with as we please.


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].

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