It seems that all the Madison Avenue people spend millions of dollars convincing people forty and over that they are past it. IT is never really defined. It’s left to the negativity of the individual and the public consensus to figure out that life is over, and now it’s all downhill.
Only drugs and plastic surgery can help, if you can remember to do it before Alzheimer’s sets in. Our friends in Big Pharma are very anxious to make you despair when you add another year to your hoard, miserable people get sick very easily, and the birthday cards in the stores don’t usually make things better.
To realize that growing older is the same as becoming obsolete is an invention put into peoples’ minds by marketing specialists is a very good thing to experience. For the last fifteen years when people ask me how old I am I answer, “I’m not old. I’m long lived and currently a couple of months short of eighty, just approaching middle age.”
Look at the pictures of the people at the time of the Founding Fathers. Even fairly young men wore white wigs. Nowadays because of marketing pressure, a great many people are 39 for many years, and lots of people take off a couple of years in a public conversation. In the days when America was not yet in the grip of the corporations, people often ADDED a few years when asked their age. Age was honoured as an accumulation of useful life experience. The eldest son quite often received everything in the will and the best seats in the church were reserved for those with the most years behind them.
But now, brainwashed people like those in our local governments, see anything old as something obsolete to be removed, and if possible replaced with some bright new trashy income generator, like a parking lot, or another strip mall. That has happened to some very historically important houses in a local village near here. The local council had no appreciation of the value of tradition or the security that having old things around can give to the young. In Money we Trust.
I have lived in this country since 1978, and what I most miss here is seeing things that have been around for several centuries. I have lived in Wales in a slate and stone cottage built in the 16th century. A school I taught in was founded in 1743. My local pub in my English village was built in the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, in the 1500’s. The church was about 1000 years old. It wasn’t unusual in that regard. Some families had been in the village since their ancestors were given land by William the Conqueror around the year 1080. The very presence of such continuity gave a psychological stability to the British people that served them very well when they endured over fifty consecutive nights of bombing in London during WWII. Even rural Americans are proud to say, “This farm has been in the family for seven generations.” How about six centuries.
My back garden neighbours in my English village were Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. They had a magnificent mansion called Nymans, with many acres of rhododendrons blazing colour in the season. But the most impressive thing to me was the great landscape painting in one of the rooms with a large window facing the rolling countryside. You looked out of the window and saw the country miles back to the horizon, and then saw that the picture looked the same. BUT the picture had been painted about two centuries before by an artist who figured out what the passage of time would do to the landscape.
And one more example. Oxford University has been there since the 1100’s. Obsolete it isn't. Neither is it the oldest university in Europe. One of the colleges has the official name, ‘College of St Mary,’ and since this was the same as that of the older Oriel College it was called the "New College of St Mary", and is now almost always called "New College". One reason for the ‘New’ is that Oxford university was a couple of hundred years old when the New College was built in 1379.
After the War the people in charge of New College discovered that the two feet thick oak beams in the world famous dining hall were full of beetle. They looked as solid as ever but a beetled oak beam could have a hollow inside and be paper thin outside. Not a good thing for the main beams of the ceiling.
Now for centuries the oak trees of England were burned by charcoal burners or turned into galleons and warships for the British navy. Really big oaks had disappeared into the war machine, rather like oil today. In mediaeval times it was possible for a squirrel to travel from the south of England to way up in Scotland, over 500 miles, without having to touch the ground. Things had changed.
Finally someone had a brilliant idea. Oxford and Cambridge and all the old universities had been given large land grants over the years and they might have an oak tree here and there. They called in the chief forester. He said in effect, “We wondered when you were going to check with us. Every time one of the Oxford colleges was built the foresters planted the oak trees to use when the beams became beetled, as they always eventually do. We know exactly where the 600 year old oaks are that were planted to take care of New College. Every forester has been told about it for generations.”
Now let’s look at a few of the people who are or were obsolete by the standards of the twenty toothed smilers of Madison Avenue who worship youth, its discretionary income and gullibility.
A student once asked my advice about taking a two year course in her sixties. She said, “If I take this course I’ll be over sixty two when I graduate.” I remembered a famous reply and said to her, “How old will you be if you don’t take it?” She took it and did very well.
But, but, but, old people have less energy and drive than the sweet young things!
Ever heard of Verdi? He composed his world famous "Ave Maria" at age 85. When Harlan Sanders got his first Social Security check he said, “I can’t live on this.” He was 65 of course and started the Kentucky Fried Chicken business and became a multi-millionaire. How about Grandma Moses the folk artist. She didn’t start painting until she was over 70 and got her commercial success when she was in her 80’s.
But that’s not terribly physical work. How do the long lived do there? Well you may have heard of the sculptor Michelangelo, not the Ninja turtle of the same name. The sculptor was carving the Pieta when he was 89.
Martha Graham was one of the world’s great dancers. When she gave a commencement speech at her school in her 70’s she wore the same dress that she did when she first graduated. It fitted perfectly. She performed until she was 75 and carried on choreography until age 95 when she completed her 180th piece.
What about sports people? Well the author Marion Hart learned to fly at age 54 and afterward made seven non-stop solo flights across the Atlantic. The seventh was done when she was 83. John Kelley pops up in the news every now and again. He finished his sixtieth Boston Marathon also at the age of 83.
Jack LaLanne is much more likely to be known because he does things that are obviously dangerous so the news media are there hoping for the scoop when he dies doing them. He was 62 when he swam the length of the Golden Gate Bridge underwater, against the treacherous tides always present around bridges. That in itself would be remarkable for an obsolete senior. But he also happened to be towing a 2,000-pound boat.
So, off to Japan where older people are naturally honoured. At age 65, he swam in Lake Ashinoko, Japan, towing sixty-five boats loaded with 6,500 pounds of Louisiana wood pulp! Since this was too easy without a handicap he was handcuffed and shackled.
The last feat I know of was at age 70, once again handcuffed and shackled, when he succeeded in pulling seventy boats and seventy people – one person per boat – an astonishing one and one-half miles against the current and in blustery winds.
These accomplishments seem extraordinary because of the low expectations that the commercial world, and therefore the media, has of older people. These people themselves were not extraordinary EXCEPT for the fact that they hadn’t bought into the trash talk of the common herd. They are all examples of Napoleon Hill’s little mantra, “Whatever you can conceive, you can achieve” and age is only a handicap to those who believe it is.
With the right attitude, no matter your age, your best years are ahead.
I read recently this great quote, “The cemetery is full of unwritten books, unsung songs, great deeds left undone, and discoveries never made. Most people die with their dreams still in them. Don't let the "too old" excuse keep you from living the life you've always wanted.”
If you want to think about others of the ‘not too old ilk’ a good place to start is “Iron Man Magazine,” written for physique enthusiasts who favour lifting weights to do what they need to do.
One man featured in 2007 was Jim Morris. He was a former Mr.America at the time and still going strong at 72. He looked like one of the up and coming body builders in their twenties. Big biceps, great triceps, massive pectorals, splendid legs, the whole nine yards. He was 72 in 2007, and started lifting heavy iron in 1960.
Unlike the complaints of the furrowed brow people in family magazines advertising medications he says, "I feel fabulous, honestly. I don't take any medications, I don't have any pain. All my joints are wonderful." Not newsworthy. Doesn't sell drugs.
In 1969 he moved to L.A. and was one of the folks who helped popularize the Venice Muscle Beach, doing his workouts alongside Schwarzenegger. In 1973 he won the title of Mr. America. That’s a pretty good deal in itself, but he was also black, and openly gay, not a normal combination for a bodybuilder. When all the posters and buttons were saying ‘Black is beautiful,’ he was proving it.
When I heard on the radio that a motor cyclist had been ticketed for doing over 200 mph my first thought as a motor cycle enthusiast was, “What kind of bike was he riding?” You may be wondering what sort of food does such a man eat to keep up his physique and conditioning.
Well he works out an hour a day six days a week. And he is a vegetarian like many of the Hawaiian Iron Man winners. That means nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables. That means no meat, no chicken, no fish, and no cheese.
He has the perfect attitude of an unbrainwashed Elder. When people tell him how great he looks for his age he says, " I don't think so. I think this is the way 70’s should look,"
Don’t forget that other young man, the 88 year old Senator Glenn Jr., who went into space again at age 77 to carry out experiments on the effects of space travel on the long lived.
But, but, but, so many old people have medical handicaps that prevent them doing anything! Depends which old person you are, the furrowed brow ones in the drug ads or real people. In 2006 Ardell Lien was 71. He did a solo circumnavigation of the world and became the first heart and kidney recipient to do that. In 2005 Gene Glassock was 70. He visited every state capital is the lower 48 states, travelling over 20,000 miles on horseback to raise scholarship money for poor children in Paraguay, and to point out to senior citizens that believing the common wisdom about age may have prevented them from accomplishing at their true potential.
In 2004 another senior citizen, 61-year-old Mark Junge capped off a 3,400-mile bicycle journey from San Francisco to New York City with a victory celebration in Times Square. That would be enough to kill the senior citizen myth by itself but let me add that he suffers from blood clots in his lungs and needs oxygen 24 hours a day. It was a promotional trip sponsored by the liquid oxygen system he used – Helios – but it still deserves praise and recognition for the personal triumph and motivation for seniors and oxygen therapy patients. You’re not dying or useless just because Fate drew you a hand that included oxygen 24/7. By the way, Park Forest and Chicago locals, he used Route 30 all the way.
In early March 2005 one senior citizen did get some publicity. Steve Fosset, aged 60 then became the first person to fly around the world alone without stopping or re-fueling. What isn’t stressed as continuously as the ‘on the way to Alzheimer’s ‘ litany is that the same senior citizen holds many records on land, sea and in the air.
Fossett's name is synonymous with record breaking and discretionary income. He worked at it for eight years before he became the first person to achieve a Solo Balloon Flight Round the World. In July 2002, at the helm of the "Bud Light Spirit of Freedom" he achieved his goal, captured the public's imagination and became a household name, setting an Absolute Round the World Speed Record, a new record for the Fastest Speed by a Manned Balloon and a new 24 Hour Balloon Distance Record. Three at a blow.
As one of the world's most accomplished private jet pilots he holds 10 world records, which include records for U.S. Transcontinental, Australia Transcontinental, and the fastest flight ever in a non-supersonic airplane of 742.02 mph. With help from his co-pilot Terry Delore, Steve has set 9 of the 21 Glider Open records.
How about water? Well since 1993, our senior citizen has dominated the record sheets, setting 21 official world records (14 standing) and 9 distance race records (8 standing). On the maxi-catamaran "Cheyenne" Steve has twice set the prestigious 24 Hour Record of Sailing, and in October 2001 Steve and his crew set a TransAtlantic record of 4 days 17 hours by beating the previous record by 43 hours 35 minutes.
So what does a senior citizen addict of record breaking do in his spare time? How about swimming the English Channel, competing in the Ironman Triathalon, and racing twice at the Le Mans 24 hours. Doesn't look like he believed the 'Take it real easy after forty or you'll have a heart attack,' crowd.
In 2004 Bill Anderson completed his bicycle ride from San Diego, California, to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. He was 78, and received a police escort as he completed the 3,000 miles trip and raised over $3,000 for the homeless. He had previously made a trip from Canada to Mexico for the Crossroads Mission, a faith-based homeless shelter in Yuma, and now claims to be the first person to cross the U.S. in both directions on a bicycle. What’s he going to do when he reaches middle age?
It looks like 2004 was a major year for myth breaking. Dodo Cheney won the championship match of the women’s 85 and over bracket at the 24th International Tennis Federation World Seniors Tennis Championships. She was 88. Just to know that there is an 85 and over bracket would curdle the blood of some of the Madison Avenue crowd. Dodo has played in tennis competitions for 80 years and has the record for the most United States Tennis Association (USTA) National Senior titles – over 340 – and has won over 20 Senior Grand Slam titles, another USTA record. She has won victories on grass and hard court and every other surface and has won in every age group from the U.S. Women’s 35s through the U.S. Women’s 80s. Not just a soloist she has won titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Another 2004 triumph. The 70 year old George Brunstad, who is the uncle of movie star Matt Damon, became the oldest person to swim the English Channel and raised at least $11,000 for an orphanage in Haiti at the same time. He did it four days after his 70th birthday. It’s not like he was used to the turbulent waters of the Channel. He lives in Connecticut. He made the 21 mile trip in a minute under 16 hours.
One more 2004 myth breaker of the physical incompetence of anyone over 50. Lucille Borgen of Babson Park, Florida, won the 62nd Annual Water Ski National Championships by winning the Women 10 slalom and tricks event on her 91st birthday. She is the oldest competitor to ever ski at the Nationals.
If you are not yet 50 but are bothered by the fiction that you are too old at whatever age the Madison Avenue crowd wants to plug then read Thinking About Tomorrow, Reinventing Yourself at Midlife by Susan Crandell. She profiles more than forty men and women who changed course and reinvented their lives at a time when popular wisdom has delegated them to be out of the race: a banker who left his career when well on the way to the top, to buy and run a small town zoo, a forty three year old housewife who built her own aeroplane, a woman who had her first son when she was fifty one years old, etc.
My favourite internet bookstore, Abebooks.com has used copies of this book in good condition for under $1.50. Postage is usually under $4.00. I’ve bought $120 medical textbooks there for $1.00. It’s a good place to go for book-lovers, and if you’ve read this far that’s probably you. And let me know if you are inspired to do some myth breaking yourself. I’d like to write about it on my 100th birthday, if 2012 doesn’t screw things up.
And keep in mind that the media in a 'look and see' nation is VERY influential. How many movies do you know that show old people in a positive or dignified light? Maybe Second Hand Lions. But movies and TV have a tremendous influence over the public mind. When Harrison Ford did his Temple of Doom stuff he incidentally was the cause of selling MILLIONS of his famous hats to men who liked the image. And that was without trying.
Imagine how much more effective they are when they deliberately build the Pepsi image of the energetic youth and the frail old lady with a bent back being looked after by a dutiful elderly daughter. Or maybe being wheeled along the promenade by a nurse.
And since I mentioned wheelchairs. One thing still riles me every time it happens in this country, and that is when I see someone in a wheelchair, either being pushed along or moving in short jerks as they turn the wheels with their hands.
European wheel chairs are meant to liberate not confine. They have various ways of propelling the chair using a bicycle chain system. The disabled one can use both arms to pull and push levers that turn the wheels on gears. You can often see people in wheelchairs easily keeping up with cyclists and positively enjoying the exercise.
Some of the strongest and best developed shoulders I saw as a weight trainer belonged to people in wheel chairs. I often saw them slide alongside their car. Put on the brakes. Open the door and just lift themselves in by pulling up on the door frame. They can’t do that here because the wheelchair companies have a monopoly that can stop the import of chairs that would really help. Wheelchair people must be old and frail and pretty helpless. Can’t have them being twice as strong as ordinary people can we?
It’s easy to be affected by a negative image when you see the sick, complaining old people, getting in everybody’s way in the movies and look at their sad faces and wrinkles in the popular magazine drug ads. Keep alert. You are being conditioned to early misery. And it isn’t nature’s blueprint for you. You have to change your great potential into weakness and sickness by your own mental efforts to obey Madison Avenue. And it isn’t necessary to brainwash yourself into a miserable and sick middle age.
Remember Marianne Williamson’s wonderful summary of who you really are:
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so
that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other
people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others."
Follow your dream. Blessings on it whatever it is.