In a New York Times article, Mary Pipher (who’s usually a reliable source of information on aging) wrote, “We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie, or a call from a friend can make us happy.”
She goes on to quote a friend who said that, as she gets older, she no longer needs “sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.”
A Medium writer noted that she decided aging wouldn’t be too bad when she saw 80- and 90-year old women enjoying “simple pleasures” at their residence: enjoying the breeze on a warm sunny day, not caring if “they couldn’t remember the day of the week.”
What’s wrong with these cheerful, optimistic sentiments?
If you can relate – more power to you. But you have to understand…
Not everyone shares the same values.
In his excellent book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes about a woman who has to make decisions about her father, who’s seriously ill in the hospital.
She asks her father, “What’s important to you?”
He says, “As long as I can eat chocolate ice cream and watch football games, I want to live.”
A doctor writes about her mother’s definition of meaning: “If I can’t sit on the floor and play with my grandsons, I don’t want to live.”
And I say, “I don’t care how much sun I enjoy or how many caterpillars cross my path. If I can’t live alone and go to my dance class once a week, I’m done here.”
“They’re happy with what they have” doesn’t automatically translate to “I’ll be happy with what they have.”
Refusal to recognize variance is one of the reasons cited for denying people the option to die with dignity, which usually involves some form of medical assistance.
Just because someone else defines a meaningful life as “sitting in the sunlight” doesn’t mean you have to.
We need to come to terms with what gives life meaning. We need to fight for the right to say “no thanks” to a life that has lost that meaning.
And that means legalizing and broadening access to the option of dying with dignity.
I write more about this topic in my book, When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch.