Occasionally a book appears that I believe you, dear reader, will benefit from, and even enjoy. Such is Life Gets Better by Wendy Lustbader, a social worker and educator. Ms. Lustbader showers us with countless stories of persons whose lives improved with age. I was astonished by her wealth of anecdotes, each calibrated to illustrate a chapter heading, be it loss, decision-making, or attitude.
Her narratives inspired me to take a more positive view of becoming older. Her admonition, “The shock of realizing we have gotten older often turns someday into now” is indeed sobering. I also found Life Gets Better liberating. Maybe it’s time to get off of committees, stop being beholden to timetables, and explore what really matters to me. Indeed, her cup-half-full (and immensely affirming) insights evoked in me an appreciation of aging as a process, not a finale.
While I felt energized by Life Gets Better, some of Lustbader’s aphorisms came up short for me. For example: “By the time we are elders we have the benefit of every crossroad we have already passed.” Perhaps. But what if those benefits don’t accrue for persons whose lives are filled with boredom and resignation rather than vitality and purpose. What if your spouse, friends, and contemporaries have all died, and your life is one of isolation. What if your assisted living residence or nursing home provides no intellectual stimulation, and you’re dependent on others for transportation, medication management, and other necessities.
I kept wishing the author had spelled out what we can do when life gets worse. When serenity, confidence, and wisdom are replaced by fear, loneliness, and loss of control over our lives. Maybe, that is another book.
Still, Wendy Lustbader revealed some valuable insights for me. She awoke in me (and probably in thousands of others) an appreciation of the gifts of elder-hood. I can better recognize when it’s time to shift gears and to value the opportunities that come with age as well as the costs. After each anecdote about someone re-claiming his or her life, I listened to my inner voice proclaim: “Go for it!”
*Published by Jeremy Tarcher/Penguin 2011