If birthday cards are any indication, growing old is a fate worse than death. As you thumb through the cards, your life will be laid out as a series of humiliating breakdowns, from hearing loss to amnesia to lack of virility to incontinence.
You can’t stop this. It’s in the cards: you peaked at 30, then started your downhill slide. Your 40th birthday was a cause for alarm. You passed your expiration date at 50. After 60, you might as well throw in the towel. To make things worse, modern medicine ensures that you will live longer than ever to savor the indignity of being old.
The whole thing is hogwash. I have been at Rianda House six months now. The people I have met here are more full of life than any I have ever known: more playful than my high school buddies, more energetic than my college roommates, wiser than my favorite professors, more generous than my most altruistic companions.
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The problem is not that we grow old. Everything does that. The problem is that we are infected with toxic attitudes about aging. When we were young, it was easy to make wisecracks about old people. Then, seemingly with the snap of a finger, we were those old people. We found ourselves on the receiving end of our own derision. It’s like a record that keeps skipping. Someone needs to knock it out of its rut.
That’s what Rianda House does. We flip the script on aging. Far from detracting from human dignity, we believe that each year adds value, like rings on an old-growth tree. We consider old age to be a cause for celebration, not alarm.
We increase life expectations by providing programs and activities that help older adults remain strong in mind and body, connected in meaningful relationships, and giving from the overflow of their lives. In this way, we make life’s final chapter the best of all. Our dream is to work with our partners to transform the entire UpValley into a place like Greensboro, Vermont, where ageism is nearly completely eradicated. (See Becca Levy, "Breaking the Age Code.")
Changing a cultural narrative is no small endeavor. It will not succeed unless it is a group effort. Rianda House celebrates its many partners. It’s a great time to open up the Give!Guide and consider which organizations you want to support. You can’t go wrong. An investment in any of us is an investment in all of us.
The next time someone hands you a birthday card dripping with toxic ageism, don’t blow out the candles. Use them to burn the card.