“It beats the alternative,” George Burns said at turning ninety. Still, author Gene D. Cohen in The Creative Age says it’s hard to get past the grim generalities and myths about aging.
“Over the hill” and “It’s all downhill from here” are sinister words that echo in our brains as we celebrate each birthday after fifty. Plummeting sex drive, health, and memory, dark, neglected nursing home rooms. Ugh. Should we really unquestionably accept all this?
No, Cohen says, and presents examples of people achieving great things in their later years. Madeline Albright, at age sixty becoming the first female Secretary of State. Dr. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general from age sixty-five to age seventy-three. Boris Pasternak who wrote his first novel, Dr. Zhivago, at sixty-six. Susan B. Anthony, internationally active into her eighties.
Cohen doesn’t stop with celebrities. He cites regular people he grew to know from his experiences with the National Institute of Health–Robert, who left his law career in his early seventies and turned to documentary photography, completing a thrilling helicopter assignment at age eighty-seven over Alaskan wilderness. William Edmonson, who lost his job as janitor in his mid-sixties and turned to sculpting, later becoming the first African American to have a one-person show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Charlotte, a retired “shrinking violet” secretary who went on to enjoy community theater, acting and singing publicly in her seventies.
While health complications are a reality, so too is the reality of the creative spirit. Cohen points out that “Dreams, desires, ambition, determination, wisdom and compassion are also among the many effects of aging.”
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