Time to Change Story
We do this thing, as humans, where we tell ourselves stories to make sense of the complexity around us. It’s one of the things that has helped us grow and change so extraordinarily as a species; but it’s also one of the things that holds us back, particularly when it comes to social change.
The great benefit of telling ourselves stories is that we can retain vast amounts of information in small, manageable pieces. The great detriment of our story-telling habit is that it requires us to categorize and contain what are otherwise an enormous diversity or vast continuum of ideas and concepts, many of which aren’t suited to being contained and are potentially dangerous when they are.
Ageing is one of those ideas – we are babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, young adults, young, middle aged, senior, old and maybe even really, really old… all these ages in convenient little boxes, with the corresponding joys, expected skills and relative values to society.
There is so much noise around ageing, in its many forms, that it can be hard to find some quiet time to really think about it. During the time that it’s taken to put this edition of Ruby, dedicated to ageing, together, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I think about ageing.
For me, it all comes back to stories. The wicked old witch, the scary old crone, the ugly old hag and, good grief, the little old lady who lives in a shoe (where, where is the man who produced all these children and then left the poor woman to care for all of them alone, until, left with no money and no food, she is so worn down with worry and poverty that a clearly very fertile woman who could by no measure of biology be any older than early middle age appears so very old not? Not to mention unstable enough to consider a shoe to be a practical living space?).
Stories do tell us about the world, but even more than that, they tell us about how we think about the world. Take the story of Snow White, for example. In the wicked step-mother we have a woman dealing with all the complications of marrying a widower with a young child, only to be faced soon after with the death of the man she loves, having to run a kingdom on her own, caring for a young teenage girl and constantly being scrutinized to see if she’s losing her looks only to be told she’s past it. There’s a newer, better looking and much younger replacement on hand; she is obsolete.
But what if Snow White’s step-mother wasn’t afraid of getting older? What if what age she was or how she looked was irrelevant? What if she could continue to be a strong leader, irrespective of whether someone younger could take her place? Would the issue of the huntsman and the heart ever have come about? Would the seven dwarves have remained secluded from society and the idiosyncracies, sinus complaints and personality quirks of seven middle-aged men living together in isolation been left to fester in peace?
If we can change the stories we tell ourselves about ageing, all those stories that tell us what we can’t do and what we should be afraid of as we age,
then perhaps we can truly change the way we age. Perhaps we could enjoy the process – the amassing of wisdom, experience and perspective – as the years pass. Sure, it leaves a few marks. For anyone who lives long enough the scars are there, both physical and emotional, that serve as reminders of the big stuff. But there is plenty of joy to be found as well, for those of us who love a happy ending. Enjoy, dear Ruby ladies – may your stories be happy ones.