As Bette Davis reminds us, “Aging isn’t for sissies.” To embrace aging fearlessly is indeed a bold act. We all know the importance of diet and exercise, having a sense of purpose and building close, nurturing relationships, but sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to developing a sense of humor around the demands of aging. I‘m not sure I could make it through my days without finding humor in my creaky morning body, less than sharp mind and ever-increasing wrinkles.
When I can laugh by turning personal obstacles into jokes, reading James Thurber, or being silly with friends, I’m rewarded by all those happy endorphins laughter brings on. Humor, as Norman Cousins reports in his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, can even help beat back a serious illness. Cousins maintains that watching Marx Brothers films from his hospital bed was instrumental to his recovery.
Diana Athill’s memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, written when she was on the cusp of 90, is laced with humor. Athill frequently draws on her storehouse of hilarious memories to amuse herself and brighten her day. She’s particular fond of recalling high times with former lovers.
The late Nora Ephron’s witty memoir, I Feel Bad About My Neck, is a great example of how humor can be transformative. Ephron morphs some of the unwelcome signs of aging, like a wrinkly neck, into laughable moments. On the occasion she was unhappy with her saggy, no longer firm body, she wrote:
“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”
Similarly Judith Viorst has made a name for herself through her humorous takes on the fifties, sixties and seventies with a book for each decade. Here’s a favorite poem of mine from Viorst’s I’m Too Young to be Seventy:
No lines on my face.
No gray in my hair.
No stains on my clothes where I spilled
In the course of one of my fork-to-mouth
No dust on the tables.
No spots on the rugs.
I’m absolutely thrilled
At how perfect the world becomes
When I take off my glasses.
If you’re lucky enough to have grandchildren or a niece or nephew, than play and laughter are at your fingertips. Young children eat up being silly. All you have to do is ask them to tell you a joke, have a wacky face-making contest, or just run on the beach with them and presto your mood is lighter.
Here’s to laughing your way into the sunset!