Aging gracefully is difficult. Knowing when to stay and when to go is complicated. There are no easy answers. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, perhaps because I’ve been watching two ageing quarterbacks—Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady.
I find myself rooting for both of them, although neither quarterback made it to the final playoff games this year. We need not feel sorry for them. Both have accolades galore. Brady is often called the GOAT—Greatest of All Times. And both quarterbacks had some spectacular games–even this season. It is not yet clear what either quarterback will do next season. I find myself hoping they both will return.
I worked for a consulting firm that required partners to take mandatory retirement. After I retired, I felt I still had a lot of gas in the tank and took several temporary positions. I still am on the lookout for interesting work and continue to participate in volunteer activities.
There is a lot of talk about age in the press recently given Biden’s probable decision to run for reelection. Certainly, Congress is chock full of aging members. In an article in last Sunday’s NY Times, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told Maureen Dowd that it bugged her that people kept asking her if she would move on from Congress given her age—82. Yet no one was asking Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that same question who is also age 82. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are both 89. Hal Rogers (R-KY) is 84. Maxine Waters (D-CA) is 83. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is 82. Today the average age in the Senate is 63.9 and in the House it’s 57.5. Today the youngest member of the House is 25-year-old Maxwell Frost (D-FL). The second youngest is AOC (D-NY) who is 33. The youngest senator is 35-year-old Jon Ossoff (D-GA). Interesting.
Some older authors are my favorites. Elizabeth Strout is 67. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge and her more recent novel Oh William, which made the shortlist for the 2022 Booker Prize, was followed by the excellent Lucy by the Sea. Frank McCourt was 66 when his Pulitzer Prize winning book Angela’s Ashes was published. Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House on the Prairie when she was 65.
Some of my favorite actors are “old.” Clint Eastwood is 92. Robert Redford is 86. Dustin Hoffman is 85. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Al Pacino are 82. Harrison Ford is 80. Morgan Freeman and Robert De Niro are 79. Meryl Streep is 73. I am grateful that they continue to seek interesting roles. All are magnificent.
In college, I authored a paper about Grandma Moses who began painting in earnest at age 78. She painted almost until her death when she was 101. Matisse created his famous cutouts when he began losing his eyesight. Some of his best cutouts were created the year before he died at age 83. Georgia O’Keeffe kept painting until the end of her days. She died when she was 98.
Scientists who are still making amazing discoveries include Richard Attenborough and Jane Goodell–both are 88. Businessman Warren Buffett is still going strong at 92.
Commercial airline pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65, although, given the pilot shortage, it may soon be extended until age 67. In 2009, Sully Sullenberger ditched a US airways flight in the Hudson River after both engines were disabled by a bird strike. All 155 passengers survived. “Sully” was 58 years old at the time. Many attributed his many years of experience as the reason he landed the plane safely.
This month I went to a classical concert featuring classical pianist Emanuel Ax. It was one of the best concerts I have heard in my lifetime. At age 73, Ax played Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 flawlessly with no music in front of him. It was spectacular.
The other side of the coin is what happens when you stay too long. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a case in point. A hero to many, still even some of her most ardent advocates wish she would have retired when she was 80 and Obama was president. If she had, perhaps we could have avoided at least some of the current Supreme Court nightmare and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
By 2050, one of every six people in the world will be over age 65. All kinds of articles give advice on aging gracefully. Many involve maintaining healthy relationships, keeping a sense of humor, staying active, meditating, appreciating all the good things life has to offer, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise.
The actress Ingrid Bergman once said, “Getting old is like climbing a mountain, you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better.” Like I said, it’s complicated.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a federal human capital practice at an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, gardening, piano, and nature.