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Rock-and-roll generation is a force

My younger, and only, sister is turning 70 in a few weeks. She is an incredible person in so many respects — wickedly intelligent and extremely physically fit, an active retiree with seven grandchildren younger than 10 and an indulgent and loving husband who happens to be four years younger than she is.

Maybe that’s part of the issue, because my dear sister is fiercely resistant to aging. That’s why I did not describe her as “celebrating” a milestone birthday. As in “no celebrating — just turning.”

I have tried to offer suggestions such as “embrace your aging psyche,” which I should have learned years ago is not the way to talk to her. The eye-rolling and the fact she did not call me for months after that conversation was my first clue. I have a social worker’s way of looking at the world, and she spent her career as a scientist. She understands the wear-and-tear theory of aging and it “disgusts” her. Yes, she has used that word.

I thought pointing out the obvious — “I am nearly three years older than you are, Carol, and I do not find getting older disgusting. I find it interesting.”

I reminded her of the comment made by one of my granddaughters when she turned 7, “I have never been 7 before; I really wonder what it’s going to be like.”

What is it like to be 70-plus years of age? I resurfaced an article in Huffington Post several years ago titled, “Thoughts on Turning 70 — Yikes!” written by Ann Fry, who describes herself as someone who helps agers “reinvent” themselves. She began the article with a reminder that “chronologically, 70 is pretty old.” But she qualified that remark by arguing that, in part, 70 seems old because “we live in a much younger world.”

And I would qualify that observation further by saying, maybe it only seems that way. The fastest-growing demographic is people older than 85. Every day 10,000 people turn 65, and that will keep happening for the next decade. We are a force — perhaps we could leverage it?

Coach Fry’s approach to this business of getting older is both practical and positive. She suggests, for example, you can “say nearly anything” without reproach once you hit age 70 — and you “get all those AARP discounts.” She reminds us that after 70-something, we are usually “pros at dancing to rock-and-roll music,” and not only that, “we invented it.” She points out that as older adults, we get the good seats on buses and at concerts, and heavy doors are opened for us.

Unless we act indefensibly cranky in the public square, and if we smile warmly and often, we usually remind a younger demographic of their favorite agers — a loving grandparent or a thoughtful uncle. Our very presence in a room can sometimes encourage a more respectful dialogue.

With increasing age comes a well-practiced opportunity, make that “a responsibility,” to model wisdom and civility. By the time we reach 80, we should be even better at doing that. Onward.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.