The Ted Talk Manifesto
Delivered to Ted Talk x/Montclair, Montclair State University, November 9, 2013
Aging is not about one thing but many things, some of the beautiful, some of them painful and humbling.
There is a lot of pressure in America on people who are growing older, we are told – never asked – all the time to accept things that will keep us alive and healthy forever, without thought, at any cost, without choice, we are bombarded with warnings and cautions, and when that idea of eternal life and health falls to the earth, as it inevitably must, we are blamed for not being able to figure out how to afford the life that was chosen for us by others. I have been a hospice volunteer for six years, and I have never met a patient who died regretting that he or she had not made more money or bought more long-term health insurance or had a fatter IRA account.
Io can be lonely growing older in America. We have few mirrors in which to guide us or see our own reflections. We are on our own.
Those of us who are beginning to be old, who are already there, are not a demographic the marketers seek. As a result, we have vanished from the popular culture, you will not hear our voices on television or see our faces in you follow the news, read magazines, look at the ads, go to the movies. In those depressing novels from Brooklyn, we are mostly doddering and sexless old fossils, withering expensively on the vine.
So I am learning to be creative and positive and strong about getting older, I am getting older in a different way. I have written my own manifesto, my first ever, I keep it in my Iphone, I read it it when it is necessary to give me strength, to remind myself who I am, not why they tell me I am.
When you fall in love with your own life, your own heart, life will clap for you.
How to Get Older In America: A Manifesto By Jon Katz
1. I will never downsize my mind or my life, I will never cease to be open to life. A closed mind is the first and saddest death, the death of the mind.
2. I will never complain about the young and talk about how they are not as hard-working, thoughtful or responsible as I was at their age, I will never talk about the good old days, they were never really all that good, I am not here to turn back the clock.
3. My life is not about my health, that is not my currency, my dialogue with the world, my wife, my friends. That is not what defines me. I do not discuss my health with strangers, I do not greet them by asking them about their health, I do not define myself by tests and procedures, my life bounded by visits to the pharmacy. I will decide what health means to me, not some numbers in a blood test, not some pharmaceutical or insurance company or government agency.
4. I embrace and accept new technologies, new realities, not as unwanted intrusions, but as the parade of change that defines a fulfilled life at any age. Nostalgia is a trap, our lives what we make of them each day. So I have a blog – www.bedlfarm.com. I do podcasts, I take videos. I meet my readers where they are, not where they used to be or I wish they were. My blog is my face in the mirror, my message to the world. Three years ago, at age 63, I re-married in the old barn on the farm I bought when I was 57 years old. I was beginning life anew. I found love.
At my wedding, I read from the poet Mary Oliver's great anthem, "Mornings At Blackwater."
"So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
and the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world,
And live your life."
5. I do not apologize for growing older, I know where I am and what I can and cannot do, growing old in America is not a shame, a dark cloud hanging over my head. I am proud of my life, of where I am, there is so much dignity in growing old. Growing old is not the time of apology, it is the age of wisdom. We have nothing to lose by being authentic, we are approaching the night.
6. I will not trade a full life now for an empty life later. I will not permit others to define my life in exchange for money. I will not live a life cast in fear and built on the cruel illusion of security. There is none in this world, not outside of ourselves.
7. I joyously delight in refusing to accept 15 cent senior discounts on coffee from Dunkin' Donuts or $1.10 off my birdseed at the hardware store. I am happy to tell the teen-aged cashiers that I can afford a cup of coffee and a bag of seed, if they really care about me, then please give my discount to young people with children, they are in greater need. I am not a worthy cause.
8. I approach growing older with acceptance, not denial, with grace, not avoidance, with the embrace of the new, not withdrawal and retreat. Joseph Campbell cautions that you better know where you are in life when the mask comes off. And isn't that what growing older is really all about? The mask comes off, and for good. We don't need it anymore.
Fear is a ghost, you can put your finger right through his heart.
9. I am living a meaningful life without much money, I will die a meaningful death with thought and strength. I do not have long-term health insurance. How I died is another way of determining how I have lived. And whose choice is this, if not mine?
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I will tell you this, straight from the heart:
10: Do not ever give up on love, even when everyone and everything around you conspires to make you believe it is lost to you and can never be found again. That is the death of the soul, the body left just a hollow shell.
Crisis and mystery are just around the corner, always. So are love and joy.
Thank you for listening to me.