SARASOTA—I woke up feeling old today. Really old. Head full of mucus, sandpaper in my throat, and the general demeanor of a geezer who didn’t get enough sleep (which I didn’t) and would be much better off staying in bed.
So it was fitting that I had to drag my butt out of my warm bed and go to the airport and wedge myself into one of those aluminum cylinders with wings, which would transport me, somewhat surrealistically, from February to June (we’re talking Tampa, Fla., here), where I rented a car and drove even farther south (windows open; weird) to Sarasota to mix with the other weary geezers at the Seventh Annual International Conference on Positive Aging.
Yes, I know, I should be happy. Leaving the Polar Vortex and all that. But I’m a reluctant traveler, especially when I’m leaving My Lovely Wife behind. MLW is a master navigator and a purveyor of such common sense when traveling that I can usually place my cerebral cortex in neutral and enjoy the scenery. But today I had to figure out how to get a boarding pass, navigate the TSA line (shoes off or on?), and get to the gate in plenty of time to begin worrying about whether I had remembered to pack my vitamins.
Doing all this on five hours of sleep and with an aggressive head cold is pretty much the opposite of positive aging, if you ask me. Still, I managed to make my way to the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota in time to grab my conference materials and eat a (much overdue) meal prior to tonight’s keynote.
Sifting through the program notes and such, between much-appreciated sips of Guinness (it’s medicinal), it appears that there’s some momentum around the idea that older folks shouldn’t just slide through their golden years thinking only of golf and bingo (and a decent night’s sleep). We could, according to these aging experts, actually retain our zest for living — and for contributing to our community and beyond — right up until we croak.
And, indeed, that was the chord Institute for the Ages CEO Tom Esselman struck as he opened the conference program tonight. “We’re on the verge of reaching a tipping point on positive aging,” Esselman told the assembled aging advocates as he highlighted the themes of this year’s conference: community, innovation, and technology.
Keynote speaker Mark Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org and a seasoned reporter who said he first began exploring these issues 30 years ago, lamented how the established media (especially the New York Times) has turned what he calls the “longevity paradox” into something like a death march for American culture — essentially ignoring the positive contributions us geezers might be able to make if we stay reasonably healthy into our old age. “The longevity revolution,” he said, “is the best thing that ever happened to us and, on the other hand, the worst.”
It’s only my first impression, but I think Esselman might be in his mid-40s, and Freedman admitted during his remarks that he recently turned 50, so I’ll be interested in the next couple of days to see if we’re going to hear from any real greybeards about the challenges of our twilight years or if this is all theory and policy.
Of course, I might arrive with a different view after a decent night’s sleep.