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Reframing Aging & Longevity

Reframing Aging & Longevity

By Maria Shriver
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Senator Mitt Romney made news this week when he announced he would not seek reelection. The former presidential nominee, who is 76 years old, said it was time to step back and let a new generation of leaders step forward. He went on in interviews to suggest that others, i.e. President Biden and his nemesis, former President Trump, might think about following his lead.

Being too old is a hot topic in our political world these days. Millions of Americans have said they think both presumptive nominees are "too old" for the most demanding job in the world. The two men think otherwise.

How old is too old? I’m not just speaking about the presidency, I’m speaking about life. I can't tell you how many twenty and thirty-year-olds come to my home saying they feel old or saying, "I’m too old for this" or "I’m too old for that." I also speak to many forty and fifty-year-olds who lament the dreams they never achieved. They tell me, "I’m too old to start over," "I’m too old to leave this career," "I'm too old to risk things," or “Too old to try." In fact, I myself said those very words to my son Patrick several years ago when he suggested I start MOSH. I’m so glad I listened to him and not to myself because starting something new in my sixties has been invigorating. Sure, it’s been challenging, and who knows where it will lead me, but the risk has been worth it.

What’s interesting to me is how many young people I know feel old and how many so-called old people feel young. The truth is ageism is alive and well in our country and in our world. So it isn’t surprising to me that people are scared to grow old, or that people feel old even when they are so young. The internet is cruel to people as they age, and corporations are cruel to people who have spent their lives working in one place only to be told, "Here is your retirement package, out you go," or to the millions who are just let go with no package and no income. In fact, one of the poorest segments of our society is older people.

As one ages (and everyone is living longer) one has to deal with loss: loss of friends, loss of parents, loss of life as they knew it, loss of independence, loss of income. Loneliness, depression, and pain can set in. And yet, millions are rewriting and reframing aging, and radically so. And that’s what this special edition of The Sunday Paper is all about today: radically reframing aging and longevity.

Aging starts the minute you are born, and the sooner you start prioritizing your health and overall wellness, the better your aging experience will be. I wish I knew what I know now when I was thirty! That’s why I’m so excited that so many wise thinkers, big visionaries, and generous teachers are here, all in one place, to help guide us forward.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, a new year for our Jewish friends. It’s a day of new beginnings; it’s also a day to think about the end of life as well. Why? Because if you think about the end, it will help you prioritize how you want to live today.

In fact, the other day I read an article titled "Rosh Hashana Can Change Your Life (Even if You’re Not Jewish)." It talked about how new years are often about making changes and wiping slates clean, but how this holiday also asks you to contemplate death. Contemplating death, the piece says, helps people make decisions about their life that bring them more happiness. Very true.

I’ve thought a lot about death over my lifetime, and the truth is that it has helped me focus on the people I love the most. It’s also helped me focus on the fragility of life and go after things others might feel comfortable putting off.

When I was growing up, several people in my family died young. They never got to see their kids grow up, they never got to grow old themselves, and they never got to contemplate the third act of life. I don’t know if they ever contemplated death, but I do know they went for it in life, which is what we are all here to do.

My friends, each of us is here to live our wildly authentic and deeply meaningful lives. And we are meant to do this at every decade of our lives.

I mentioned last week that I feel I’m in a new chapter, one that is marked by me choosing to live a wildly authentic and meaningful life of my own. These days when someone asks how I’m doing, I’m choosing to say “I’m great” instead of focusing on what’s not right in my life, which I did for quite some time. I’m focusing on allowing my heart to lead me forward. I’m also focusing on needing less, wanting less, and doing less, which in a funny way is enabling me to feel “more.” This past week I was grateful to be able to go from one meaningful experience to the next. On September 11, I went to listen to my son-in-law give a speech in honor of the day. It was such an honor to meet so many people who are in service to our great country. It was also beautiful to watch my daughter stand in solidarity with her husband and to see how touched he was to be able to share his tribute with those serving our country.

Then a few days later, I got to interview one of my oldest and best friends, Oprah, and her co-author, Arthur C. Brooks about their new book on the science of happiness called Build the Life You Want. Oprah and I met at a local TV station in Baltimore in 1978—way before she became known to millions! We lived in the same housing complex, worked at the same station, and spent our nights eating in the cafeteria at our local supermarket. She shared her dreams with me back then and I shared mine.

Forty-seven years later, we are still sharing. We are still laughing, still eating, and still dreaming together. I consider long friendships like ours to be an integral part of my life. And science shows these types of friendships are critical to good health and longevity in our lives as well.

I’ve often shared with this community my vision for The Open Field. It's a place I imagine that’s out beyond shame, guilt, judgment, labels, and fear. My spiritual team is looking down on me and my faith is helping guide me toward the field. When I think of myself in the future at 85 or 90, I’m standing there in the field. My hair is wild, I’m wearing a gypsy skirt, my rosaries are around my neck, and in my hands, I have on my favorite hoop earrings and prayer beads on my wrists. My kids are all there with partners who love them, as are my grandchildren. I’m even strong enough to hold one of my smaller grandkids.

My friends have also gathered in The Open Field. They surround the big table filled with food and share memories of life: the small memorable moments and the big ones too. I’m in good health and I’m laughing. I’m in good standing with those I care about. The music is blaring and I feel good about my life. I feel like I was of service, like I gave it my all and didn’t hold back, and like I was able to become my unique and authentic self.

I’m not thinking about age at all in this vision. No, instead I’m thinking about how blessed I am to have gotten to this moment, a gift many others did not get. Think of Libya, think of Morocco, think of all the kids whose lives were taken in senseless school shootings. The list goes on.

To be able to age with one’s brain and body intact is a gift. It’s something we have to work at to the best of our abilities. From here on out, every day must be an investment in that vision. I have to prioritize my physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and cognitive health if I want to make this dream a reality. I also have to stay curious, stay engaged, and keep moving and learning and growing. I have to consciously work to live my life above the noise so I can be of service to those I love and to my country.

That brings me back to Mitt Romney for a moment. After Romney made his announcement this week, I was struck by the responses from the two main presidential candidates. One called Romney to thank him for his service and the other belittled his service on social media.

My friends, we must return civility to the public square no matter what our age may be. We are never too old to have good manners, civility, and class. How you behave and carry yourself tells people a lot more about your age than the actual number.

Today, I am grateful for the wisdom of my own age. I’m also grateful to still feel like I have the spirit of youth. I still have dreams to realize and things I want to make better in our world. And I do believe our world needs me, just like it needs you. So step forward yourself starting today. Invest in your health and don’t allow others to tell you your time is up. Remember, you are a light that is not to be extinguished. Carry on.

Prayer of the Week

Dear God,

May I be grateful for the gift of time you've given me. May I savor this present moment, honor my life, and cherish this opportunity you've granted me to live out an authentic, meaningful life.

Amen.

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