There are some pretty wonderful things about reaching old age that are little discussed; the disadvantages are far too well advertised to warrant further attention. I am officially old, I will be 75 in August of this year and learned recently that the "elderly" designation attaches when you reach age 72. So I think I have reached an age to be a reasonably good judge of the advantages of being old.
One of the advantages I like best is the ditching or overboard tossing. By that I mean certain things in your life that once seemed mighty important and now are not. Raising your children is one of these. By now, your children are middle-aged, have married or partnered well or not, are established in their career or profession or not, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about any of it. You have survived their adolescent years when you wondered whether either you or they would make it out alive. You have survived their twenties and early thirties when you despaired over partner and career choices, watching the light move across your ceiling as night turned to day and you still hadn't been to sleep. All of that is in the rearview mirror and good riddance. Your kids now are what they are.
You're also out of work or retired, depending on whose choice it was. In either case, you are no longer worried about the office, the shop, the restaurant. You no longer worry about the rogue co-worker, the super dysfunctional boss, the intimidating client. You no longer obsess over monthly sales figures, deadlines or annual employee evaluations. You no longer agonize over whether to change career in mid-stream, and if you do, what would be the gain and what would be the loss? All of that is also in the rear view mirror and good riddance to that as well.
If you're single, or divorced as I am, you also no longer worry about a partner, having one, finding the perfect match, dating someone younger, what your friends and family might think, etc. And then, having found someone, maybe, trying to find common ground, trying to build a new relationship that will not come unglued, that will last, that you can stand to be in, etc. All that, too, is now in the rear view mirror. And what a relief that is. No one to consult about what time dinner is or what it will be, no one else who gets a turn to pick the movie, or what to watch on TV or comment on what you're reading or wearing or doing. Living alone can be so liberating.
Now is my time. What I discovered is a new ability to focus as I have not done since I was a child and for the same reason. Children don't have the distractions that adults do, at least not in our society. Old people, having come out on the other side, don't either, and so can focus on whatever ignites their interest as they have been unable to do for years.
My focus has become food. First, I have become a member, through the Weavers Way Co-op, of Dining for Women. (www.diningforwomen.org) That organization supports women's groups in developing countries working to improve living conditions for impoverished families. Each chapter meets monthly at members' homes, bringing a covered dish. Each member contributes what she would have spent at a restaurant and that money is donated directly to that month's selected recipient. Since my chapter began, D4W has contributed to a women's cooperative in Mali granting micro-loans to women to start up small businesses, an organization working in Liberia and Sierra Leone to install composting toilets and water collection and purification systems in small villages and a women's cooperative in Guatemala that connects women weavers with designers in the US, enabling the women to feed and clothe their children and send them to school. So the gratification is immediate.
I am also hoping to join the board of a community partnership that is working to bring better food into the public schools in the northwestern part of the city and that operates a vegetable garden at a homeless shelter that usually houses 250 men, women and children. Anyone living in the shelter is welcome to work in the garden. The garden's produce goes directly to the kitchen of the shelter.
Finally, my next door neighbor, John, has surrendered his portion of our shared backyard so I can enlarge "our" vegetable garden. I try to grow enough so we can both live out of the garden all summer and early fall. I am learning something new about growing vegetables every day. Right now my downstairs, where I have large windows filled with early spring sunshine, is filled with peat pots containing small heirloom tomato and pepper plants. John loves the fact that he's the only one on our block with a gardener. I love that I have more than doubled production. There is something about watching nature at work that renews and energizes and when you're nearing the three quarter century mark, anything that energizes is fantastic.