Being a Senior Means Being a Little Wise

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I am a senior! I am happy to be a senior! I have grey hair to show that I am a senior! I am willing to stand up, in public and say that I am a senior and that feels great!

Why does being a senior feel so good to me? My answer to my own question is, of course, not simple. It can’t be simple because I have lived long and have experienced enough to know that with each day or year of living I will learn something new. All of this adds to the complexity of how I perceive my life, my purpose, and the passage of time.

I know people who shun the words ‘senior’, or ‘elder’, or even ‘older adult’ perhaps because our society and culture lead us to believe that these words imply an undesirable quality – something shameful to be avoided. I admit there was a time when I felt that way – but no more. My change in thinking happened gradually over many years as I began to realize and accept the idea that I had good reason to be grateful for being older.

I write this with the caveat that I have been lucky to be healthy so far. Since I write largely from my own experience, it would be misleading for me to suggest that I know what it is like for every older person. Each of us has to decide, as individuals, what the upsides and downsides of long life are. For me personally, I have determined not to dwell on the unfortunate things that may happen to me as I age toward death, but rather to consider what I can do between now and then that will benefit the things I care most deeply about -my family, my friends, my cadre of communities, and certainly me.

One of the most important reasons why being older is a terrific thing is that I have a brain. I am very appreciative of my mind which has been able to hold decades-worth of incidents and ideas. However, it isn’t this knowledge bank that is most important, but the way in which my head can integrate information and come out with insights that I didn’t know existed. I can’t take credit for what my brain does. It seems to have a life of its own and it’s constantly sending me messages about what to pay attention to and what to ignore. It is really fun to have my mind operating in this way and I have learned to let it do its own thing. I observe it almost as if it were a separate entity whose purpose is to give me good ideas to ponder. In some ways, I have given up trying to control my brain but allow it to wander broadly into territories that would be unknown to me if I tried to manage it too closely.

Information and knowledge, in combination with a roving, searching brain, produce patterns of thought that make up what I think is a part of wisdom. It feels a little arrogant to say that I think I have reached a small level of wisdom but I am going to say it anyway. I think that I am at least a little wise! This tentative sense of wisdom allows me to clarify my most important priorities and reject those concerns that are not worth my time and worry, especially if I have no way of having an impact. Being a little wise gives me confidence to stand up and express what I feel is right or wrong – as long as I have enough solid data to make a good argument. Being a little wise enables me to see multiple sides of an issue and understand where people are coming from as they state their own opinions, which I may or may not agree with but respect, nevertheless. Being a little wise allows me to connect with people of many different ages and cultures. Being a little wise offers a sense of serenity.

I don’t think that wisdom is a static state. Because I hope to live many more decades, I expect that my knowing will grow from being “little” to “bigger”, but I never want to say “I know it all.” It would take away the joy of continuing to grow my inner self.

So, there it is. I am not afraid of, ashamed of, or put down because I am a senior. The word doesn’t scare me and I am deeply unsettled, and disappointed that it frightens others. I have come to believe that the word ‘senior’ implies a state of being wise, which is a good thing – not something to run from. It is to be embraced. Being afraid of the word senior denies the knowledge that older people possess, inhibits profound dialogue, and, in some way, shortchanges our role in society. I am a senior excited by my growing status of wisdom and I can’t wait to see what I will learn tomorrow.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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