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Making the Case for Aging Disgracefully

Why we should all practice the art of not giving a ‘flying fig'.

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Mature woman on scooter, wind blowing through hair aging disgracefully
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My favorite aunt lived well into her 90s, and when I say she “lived well,” I am not suggesting that the mere act of reaching her advanced age should be viewed as any sort of accomplishment. Quite the contrary. She lived well because as she crept up in years, she simply chose to do whatever the hell she wanted, when she wanted and with whomever she wanted. 

She adopted a devil-be-damned attitude and would be quick to say she didn’t give a “flying fig” what anyone else had to say about her choices. I use “flying fig” as a direct quote because my late aunt rarely cursed. Profanity, she believed, was the provenance of those with small vocabularies and even smaller minds. The two things I remember most about her were that she had an intellectual curiosity that knew no boundaries and an unrepentant lust for much younger men. The latter made me blush on more than one occasion, which generally earned me a “I don’t give a flying fig” reminder.

Truth is, right up until her death some 15 years ago, she was drawn to smart people and loved being in love — for however long it lasted. Some of her romances lasted through lunch, but she cherished them all. And to her credit, she had a fairly constant stream of suitors who were, on average, around 20 years her junior. Some of them eventually became one of her husbands or live-in partners. But she invariably grew bored with all of them. That said, she had the gift of letting men down gently. Friendship wasn’t a consolation prize for a failed romance, she believed. And as such, she created a small army of male friends that she could call upon in a pickle. A “pickle” was her word for things like needing someone to drive her places at night after I demanded she move out from behind the wheel — at least on freeways.

Many older women today will undoubtedly want to know: Where exactly did my 90-plus-year-old aunt find all these men worth spending time with? Well, for one, she moved around like a hummingbird in a constant state of flirtation. She flirted with men of all ages wherever she went — the supermarket, where she invariably asked for help “reaching” something; the Scrabble club, where she coquettishly admired many a man’s two-letter word list; and even the hospital (a place that she, as a rule, avoided like the plague), where she assured more than one young doctor that his blue scrubs really brought out his blue eyes. As the doctor blushed, she would tell him that eyes were the window to the soul and then locked hers onto his.

What can I say? She was a player right up until she died. I remain convinced she emitted a pheromone that made her irresistible. While I admired my aunt through all the stages of her life, her deepest imprint on me came as I watched her face aging. She rejected any sort of pressure to “age gracefully” and even joked that she much preferred to “age disgracefully.”

From her throaty laugh and raunchy jokes delivered with a faux innocence, she was a sassy broad with little tolerance or time for fools. “When you are my age,” she often said, “time is a commodity to be spent wisely.” 

By design, she actively avoided spending a lot of time in the company of people who complained, especially if it was about what ailed them. Body parts don’t come with a lifetime warranty, she believed, adding that it was incumbent on everyone to take care of their own parts instead of rushing to doctors with each new ache. She took vitamins but little else, ate nothing with a face and walked 3 miles a day except on the days she’d head out at night to go dancing. And as for going to see doctors, let’s just say she operated with the philosophy that bad news always finds you, so there was no need to go out and look for it.

My aunt never fretted a moment over the changes her body — all bodies — would undergo as she got older. She scoffed at anything labeled “anti-aging” and enjoyed tormenting department store saleswomen who peddled such products. “Do you realize what the alternative is to not aging?” she would beseech them. “It’s death!” 

For the record, my aunt didn’t fear dying, but she made it clear she wasn’t especially keen on having a painful or prolonged death conjured up for her in the name of medical interventions. Now, as I enter my 70s, I’ve been thinking a lot about my aunt — far beyond hoping that I’ve been blessed with her longevity genes. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to spend the next 25 years or so. I suspect it all starts by not giving a flying fig.

Show your support for aging disgracefully by joining AARP, where we celebrate life at every age and stage. Join today.

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