by Iris Zhou, Sunnyvale
When I hear the words “growing older,” my mind is flooded with thoughts of going to college and spending hours upon hours with my nose in a textbook, studying for midterms and finals. I think of writing resumes, attending job interviews, and maybe even paying for the rent of my first apartment. On the flip side, growing old holds a significantly different meaning for older people. When they think of growing old, they are bombarded with fears and images of not being able to run or move around like they used to, or being more easily influenced to make undesirable decisions. They may worry about how prepared they will be for retirement, or if they will be able to retire at all. Being a sophomore in high school, thoughts like those rarely ever cross my mind. Rather than being worried that I won’t be able to retire, I’m worried about whether or not I will be accepted into a good college. Instead of wondering if I will be able to move around the house on my own when I’m seventy, I worry about the mile I’ll have to run next Wednesday for my PE final. These great contrasts in thought show the importance of looking at life through the eyes of a different person. Trying to understand why some people view growing older with fear instead of with anticipation as I do benefits my perspective on life, especially because I do not consider it often. After trying to put myself in the shoes of someone in this situation and taking in the opinions of people experiencing it, I’ve slowly started to understand why people fear growing older. People are afraid of growing older because they fear losing their physical and mental abilities as well as being financially unstable for retirement.
Many people fear the loss of their physical strength, an inevitable effect of growing older. As people age, their bones and muscles will naturally become weaker. This gradual decrease in mobility can eventually make simple tasks, like walking down the stairs, extremely difficult, or even impossible. The Pixar animated movie Up shows some of the physical disabilities of an elderly person through the morning routine of the character Mr. Fredrickson, an old man who cracks his back every morning before using his walking cane to hobble over to the stairs. He must then embark on the 30 second long journey from the head to the foot of the stairs on his slow, noisy stairlift before he returns to his trusty cane to hobble to the kitchen for breakfast. As shown in the movie, the loss of physical strength can be a great inconvenience in a person’s daily life, so fearing the deterioration of physical strength is perfectly understandable.
Many people also fear aging because of the loss of mental ability that comes with it. The mental strength of humans naturally deteriorates as they age, which can be frightening, because the mind is the most important part of the human body. It is the filter through which people think and perceive the world. Without it, a person does not truly function as a living being, even if they are technically alive. Because of the mind’s importance, people often fear the consequences of the more easily influenced mind that comes with age. Harper Lee, a renowned American novelist, may have had the chance to experience some of those consequences. Lee was only 34 years old when she published the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, which became an enormous success. She adamantly vowed never to publish another, but in 2015, only a year before her death, she published Go Set a Watchman, a sort of sequel to her first book. Much controversy surrounded the book’s publication, because people believed that publishers had taken advantage of the 89 year old’s frail state and pushed her to do so. Incidents like Harper Lee’s may be a part of why people fear growing older, and consequently, losing their mental ability.
Being financially unstable can make an aged person’s life much more difficult, a rational fear shared by many. A life free of days fueled by coffee or nights hunched over the computer at two in the morning may seem like distant dreams to people who just want to rest, relax, and enjoy life. However, people cannot retire if they do not have enough money to support their life after retirement. Considering how many people this problem affects, we can easily understand why so many people fear it. An article from the National Institute on Retirement Security reveals that 92 percent of working households will not have the target amount of savings needed, calculated from their age and income, to retire. When drowned in an endless sea of stress and sleep deprivation, fearing not being able to be relieved of the routine is perfectly understandable.
The mental and physical disabilities that come with old age as well as the worry of being too financially unstable for retirement make growing old a valid fear for many. Until now, I had never considered what growing old may have meant to someone who could see its consequences growing nearer in the future. Though we as a society have made many improvements to health care and and financial support for people who need it, we haven’t made enough progress to settle the fears of people entering this stage of their lives. People should be able to live every moment of their lives without fear of the future, but instead with anticipation for each coming day. Regardless of age, people should be able to enter each chapter of their lives like high schoolers transitioning to college. As a high schooler, I see my future as a time full of opportunity and discovery. I hope that others can see their futures in this way as well, without having to worry about how they will to get downstairs each morning for breakfast, or if they will ever be financially stable enough to live a happy life in retirement. In order to accomplish this goal, more effort needs to be put towards preparing people for lives as older people so that they can look towards each new chapter in their lives with anticipation for the opportunities and experiences that await them.