January 12, 2007

The case for aging

As the average life span has lengthened with better health care, senior citizens continue to lead bustling lives, enjoying activities and even hobbies they perhaps never got the chance to pursue when they were younger.

Something Like Life
Jan. 12, 2007

WHO would’ve thought that the most controversial topic I would ever write about were my crow’s feet! (Something Like Life, January 5, 2007) Gee, and I thought the readers were more interested in my ruminations on illicit relationships, passionate kisses, and lustful longings across the office cubicle!

To this day, I’m still getting text messages and comments from friends swearing on their lover’s/husband’s mother’s second cousin’s dog’s grave that the anti-aging product they’ve been using has helped them keep looking youthful. One publicist has also been in touch trying to convince me to try the anti-wrinkle cream her client has been hawking.

My sister, for one, told me about this relatively inexpensive wrinkle correction cream from this ubiquitous personal products manufacturer. Her friends are raving about it and claiming it to be “better than Botox!” Now, they are the types that lap up all sorts of expensive new branded gunk on the market and have enough funds to actually get a face lift! So maybe this product is worth looking into.

One friend also talked about how a sixtyish corporate communications executive of a large beauty products maker still manages to look young just by using her company’s products. (That’s what the executive claims anyway.) I’ve met this lady and I actually thought she was only in her late 40s! Well, I’ve just bought that company’s wrinkle correction cream and I will definitely update you on whether it works or not.

Laugh lines aside, getting old really isn’t the end of the world, as more and more people are realizing.

Decades ago, when one reached the retirement age of 60, he was expected to enjoy only a few short years with his grandchildren, then probably die of a lingering illness, or—worse—be a bane to his children by becoming incontinent and demented.

These days, as the average life span has lengthened with better health care, senior citizens are still leading bustling lives, enjoying activities and even hobbies they perhaps never got the chance to pursue when they were younger.

I can look only to my mom and her amigas as examples of “silvergenarians” still leading very active lifestyles, wrinkles and all. I call them the “Ladies Who Lunch”—thank you, Barbra Streisand—because almost every month they get together and celebrate someone’s birthday by eating out. Of course a few weeks before their lunch date, they have little arguments among themselves which restaurant they should go to. My mom constantly complains about how her gangmates never seem to see eye-to-eye on where to go. A most cantankerous bunch of senior citizens if you can imagine, though in a funny old people sort of way. (Think Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men.)

My retort to my mom, of course, is the usual “Just go to a frigging fastfood center and let everyone choose what they want to eat.” Of course, she never pays any attention to any of my suggestions. (Hopefully, this is not a preview of how my own gang will behave as we thumb our way toward Golden Acres. Instead of arguing about which restaurant to go to celebrate someone’s birthday, perhaps we will be content with our regular “immoveable feasts” of sinigang na baka and binagoongan na baboy.)

Some of my mom’s friends are widows, have husbands who have left them, sickly, or just plain loony (again, in a loveable senior citizen sort of way). And yet they all seem to be enjoying themselves even as they approach their 80s. One goes ballroom dancing a lot and has had a young lover; another is going off to the North with her travel club of fellow seniors; one is still busy running her own company; while the others are quite content babysitting their grandchildren or waiting on their grown-up, married children to visit on weekends. If my mom isn’t out playing mahjong or shopping, she is at home fighting with me for the control of the TV remote. Damn those afternoon soap operas!

According to the National Statistics Office, the number of senior citizens in the country is expected to reach seven million by the year 2010, from the current 5.6 million. The same data also shows that 60 percent of our senior citizens are married, although females dominated the single (71 percent), widowed (76.5 percent) and divorced/separated (57.26 percent) groups. Which says a lot, I suppose, about how elderly women view their lot in life. They are definitely okay being solo. Most of them don’t want to remarry, and have things to do other than obsess about romance.

I particularly admire this one tita of mine who is the most dynamic and perhaps most liberated among my mom’s friends. She’s had a few lovers since her husband passed away decades ago. Asked why she wouldn’t marry her present boyfriend, a widower of her same age, she said she didn’t want to get stuck taking care of someone. What if he got sick? And of course, she wouldn’t be able to just take off to enjoy her own activities with someone watching over her shoulder. Heavens! I told my mom that my tita is more “progressive” than even most single women I know.

Thus, the elderly Filipina will have intimate relationships with men (younger or as old as her) but not necessarily with an eye to get hitched again.

Elsewhere, aging men and women are getting “with it.”

Just check out some local bazaars and you’ll pick up a few items made by this and that “lola” now making money from their cooking hobbies, suddenly free from the rigidities of a 9-to-5 career or from taking care of husbands.

A good friend’s husband also retired at 60 a few years ago, but is still consulting for his company and runs a few businesses on the side. He and his wife also travel more these days.

In Japan, where the elderly is about 19 percent of the total population, Yuichiro Mira climbed Mt. Everest in 2003 at the ripe old age of 70! He plans to do it again next year, at age 75.

Another Japanese, Motoko Nakano, 84, is now officially a guide on the “Silk Road” tours for her fellow elderly travelers, after having toured China about 10 times. A widow and former restaurant owner, she is a frequent traveler, often researching on the Internet to plan her itinerary.

So it is wrong to think that when one ages, one becomes inept and useless. More than the crow’s feet, laugh lines and occasional sore joints, aging is probably a chance at a new and challenging fun-filled lifestyle.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

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