Here’s how it works: you enter the game at midlife, often triggered by a loss—of looks, health, a relationship, a parent—and navigate uneasily through the game board, aka the cultural landscape. As you do, the landmines, messages, and lack of models tell tales of nursing homes, dementia, depression and Depends.
It does not look good.
This is the cultural set-up Betty Friedan wrote about in The Fountain of Age, a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf for five years before I pulled it out, desperate for a model about how to age gracefully since turning 60.
I did not find any, and Friedan’s book told me why.
A culture’s story is as much about what is missing as what is present. And what is missing today in our youth-obsessed American culture, as it was over 20 years ago when Friedan wrote the book, is the true story about aging.
That true story, Friedan discovered, was hidden in the folds of the larger social narrative, marginalized and out of sight. As one gerontologist told Friedan, “We study what we are afraid of.”
The Fountain of Age includes stories of people in their 70s-80s-90s who are doing purposeful work, discovering a new kind of intimacy and connection, and building unusual communities of caring and support as they age.
These were the stories—and models—I had been looking for. These are the truer stories that need telling and believing and living into as we age if, indeed, we want to win this particular game.