Irene celebrated her 91st birthday today. How do I know? She was at Jazzercise at 8:15 a.m., as she is every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Irene was wearing a t-shirt that said “Inside every old person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.”

She got on stage with the instructor and began to shimmy to a very modern “put your hands in the air” song. Making a ‘bad girl’ face, she burst out laughing and then made sure to hold the hand rail on her way off the stage. I don’t know anything about her life. We don’t chat at class. She may have lived a charmed life or had endless tragedy, but Irene is my hero. She demonstrates every aspect of how to live without depression.

In US culture are relentless in our deprecation of the signs of age. We mock wrinkles and flabby arms. We are impatient with slowness both mental and physical. We don’t seek wisdom and serenity, we seek wit and flash. And as I head straight into the first stage of old age, I am not happy about that. I can get discouraged about life having not brought all I want. I can feel discouraged about what I have lost. But that route is a dead end. It can only lead to spending my life depressed.

I want to be Irene.

I see her trying. She stands in the front row and she does the best she can. She moves in rhythm and lifts arms and feet as high as they will go without causing her to fall over. She lifts the little weights but she lifts them. She does not apologize for not being the best, the youngest, the most. She has not had a face lift. To me, the self-acceptance she demonstrates in her presence at class and willingness to joke, and her endurance are the visible signs of what I want to be as I age. I want to develop the attitude that trying is better than giving up. I want to be right in front doing my best. I want to keep moving to the best of my ability. And I want to feel good that I am here, not apologize for showing my age.

I don’t know how she feels on the inside, but I suspect her t-shirt says it all.

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