Near the conclusion of Simone de Beauvoir’s late-life masterpiece Coming of Age, she observes:
“Once we have understood what the state of the aged really is, we cannot satisfy ourselves with calling for a more generous `old age’ policy, higher pensions, decent housing and organized leisure. It is the whole system that is at issue and our claim cannot be otherwise than radical–change life itself.”
Elderhood has the power to shatter the mundane constraints of adulthood. It can release revolutionary power and enable new forms of freedom. These latent capacities help explain why aging is best understood as a revolutionary act.
Betty Friedan’s last major published work was a careful and lengthy reconsideration of aging. The Fountain of Age explored the unexpected depth and strength that is hidden within life’s third age. In one of the book’s most engaging chapters, Friedan tells of being challenged to rappel down a 300-foot cliff during an Outward Bound-type expedition. She declined the invitation. Such a refusal would burden most adults with powerful feelings of guilt and shame. As an elder, she experienced her refusal as evidence of a new kind of freedom. She understood that, finally,
“I don’t have to compete to prove myself — I can live with the fact that I’ll never rappel and that failure doesn’t really matter one way or another.”
Wise words from two wise women.