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Greene: Fountain Of Middle Age

05/31/12 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) As the population of Vermont ages, commentator Stephanie Greene, a freelance writer who lives on a farm in Windham County with her family, suggests that it might be a good time to reconsider some of our assumptions about the process of aging.

(Greene) First of all, let me say that my definition of middle age has changed as my birthdays have mounted up. I used to think middle age was around 30. What nonsense: I now know that middle age begins at 50 and ends at 80. After that, I couldn't tell you.

Even the PEW Research Center hedges its bets. Its website declares: " We do try very hard to avoid the use of the term ‘elderly,' since many people find the term objectionable." Anna Quindlan quotes a PEW study in which most people quizzed said that old age begins at 68. However, those over the age of 65 thought old age began at 74. You see how this is working? "Old" is a spryly moving target.

Now, the general assumption about The Fountain of Youth is that once you find it - and the journey's always complicated, even hellish - you sip its waters and get to keep your wisdom - but regain your youthful prowess.

I suppose this would include the ability to tolerate massive amounts of caffeine, sugar and alcohol, to actually think staying up all night is fun, and to run five miles without bothering to warm up. Why else would Ponce de Leon have braved all those mosquitoes searching for it in what was to become Florida?

The Fountain of Middle Age is more of a mixed bag. For every gain, there is probably a loss. But because you are wiser, you emphasize the gains and learn to be graceful about the losses.

Plus, nobody has to chase the Fountain of Middle Age. It comes after you, presenting you with the opportunity to learn its lessons or not. Unfortunately, no highfalutin trips to Florida are necessary.

Here's how it works. You develop sciatica, but simultaneously develop a taste for staying in bed and reading murder mysteries. Slowly you regain your health and take up yoga, whose vigorous stretches make you feel ten years younger. In fact I think the FMA is much like taking the curative waters in Saratoga, NY. Lower yourself into the hideous, sulfurous- smelling, hot bath water, whose aroma is in no way masked by the tiny lavender sachet provided. Within minutes, every worry is leeched out of you. You couldn't care less about the aroma. You are a rapturously happy starfish who'd be overjoyed to spend the duration of its life clinging to a rock.

The most interesting thing about all this new peace of mind is its effect on the young people I encounter. Freed of most of my inhibitions except those concerning snakes and bungee jumping, I often find myself telling young people how good it is to be my age. I have stopped worrying about how I look or what others think of me.

A wash of relief passes over the faces of these Worried Young. After all, Youth is not the wall to wall fun-fest some would have us believe. It's often a miraculous feat to survive it at all.

Listen to the Vermont Edition program on how we define and experience middle age.

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