Identity and getting older

By J. Keuskamp – Josina van Schaik, Netherlands

On the following pages you will find some interviews with older people from different countries in Europe and in Israel.

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Mia Schoon (69), Holland

In hindsight I see that I’ve gone through something, almost like a new birth. First there were many different identities that were not me, then came the feeling of not being attached anymore to these importances and the sense of liberation into a huge new freedom.

It must have been the result of a long process over a long time but now it is as if it was suddenly there. Something must have gone click. You don’t feel the movement of it, only once you are through it do you notice it. Suddenly you arrive in a totally different world, suddenly you’re free. It’s the continuous feeling of being in something new, unbelievably fresh. Like the first 12 years of my life, it’s new, new, new. The flowering of the body is gone, you have got to let go, even skills that are not needed anymore, they drop away. The real flowering is life itself. Between the age of 50 and 60 was the great falling off, a time of shrinking; I didn’t like it at all. Opportunities dropping away, children leaving home, relationships changing, all the things that had made up my life so far were falling away. A rather scary experience because I didn’t know where it would lead. Now I think, ´I’m one of the elders of the tribe´, maybe this is a new identity? The options of society are unimportant. I now feel myself to be something, have a role to play, feel the significance of that but not on the world’s terms, it’s on my terms now, in the dignity of what my life stands for, what I choose to be and do.

During the shrinking period there was like an identity-crisis because of compliments that I still looked so young. One identity liked it, another was confused: what’s wrong with being 50 and looking it? Why is it only right and okay to look young? That also passed. Everything is fine now; also the fact that I look younger has its usefulness, because people don’t treat me as they think they ought to treat someone of close to 70. There is a feeling of being totally accepted, by the creation, by the whole. I feel no disapproval or disagreement in me. There is an eternity-identity now, it seems. I have to come forward with myself in the end. I know that already I am seen and measured by that which sees and measures humans, my intentions, motivations, thoughts, all this is already noticed and registered and I feel accepted by that world. No need to fool anyone about what I am. Now I feel that other things come my way related to this age and that doesn’t feel bad at all. It feels functional, it feels dignified, and it gives different responsibility. It makes that I say certain things and don’t say other things; it is like being in function for the whole. It gives reassurance to younger people when they meet someone getting older who feels very much at ease and happy with that.

The identity that now seems to come to the surface is like being sculptured by things that I chose in my life, so that I’m more and more ready for the process of the whole of life itself. That will give it its form. I try to keep a part free. Fixed identities work against you, block your future. If you are not conscious about it, it uses you rather than you using identity for specific purposes. My way is that I don’t want to become stuck of fixed in a certain identity; I want to keep open and moving. I want to be close to what really matters in life.

Ulla Åkerstrøm (67), Sweden

I don’t identify myself as an old person. Sometimes I have to tell myself, ‘You’re not young anymore’. I still have different things I want to do or fulfi l, like projects I had in my mind for many years, but there were so many other things to do in many identities like my job as a nurse, children etc. Now as I have more free time I want to realise at least something of all the dreams and visions I had, such as healing work which is absolutely one of my self-tasks to realise. Physically it’s more obvious that something has happened, I’m not so strong anymore and must take care of myself both mentally and physically. Practically in life there is a need to sort things out, leave stuff behind that is not relevant anymore and keep what you want.

In dealing with other people I can more easily see through things, people can’t manipulate and fool you anymore. You can be more direct and firm. On the other hand, in dealing with a difficult person, you are more able to use your warmth and care instead of argument or trying to change the person. I’ve learned you can’t change the whole world, but you can change yourself.

Lied Weber (79), Holland

You can’t have one minute twice, but you can use it to create something different for the future. That’s a huge lesson I try to apply each day anew: to not be fixed in an old identity but to make a better one today. The time filled with identities of family, nursing, sports, has passed. Everything changed since. Now it’s time to contemplate other things, like how to not be stopped by the limitations of getting older, how to still develop myself better, i.e. by seeking answers to so many life questions I still have. I keep getting more questions about the how and the why; they started a process that never ended about doing detection about the reasons why humans exist, what is that mysterious theatre between the human and its causer. Searching for natural identities made my life so much richer; there is an unstoppable progression. The feeling of self-worth started to prevail and that process is still going on. My identity is now formed by what I question, the researches I do and the many detection fieldtrips I make all around the world, always looking for what the deeper causes and reasons are why something would exist: what made it, what’s it for? I’ve changed in how I go on with people and with problems of life, especially when you get older. There’s so much that bothers me not. Often I’m asked why so many problems are not a big deal for me. One reason is paying respect to each other, knowing that in each is a spirit that is a piece of God, whatever may be one’s religion.

I’m preparing for death, but in fact I still feel young the ‘me’ inside the body and I still look to the future with hopes and visions and expectations. It’s a blessing and a joy to get older, and with a big dose of humour it’s easy to bear the diminishing health of the body.

Birgit Christensen (67), Denmark

My identity at my age now is much more internally focused than before. It’s like the tide of ebbing is going on outside of me, but inside there’s a whole rich flood. The natural identity tries to find out who I really am before I leave the planet. It’s a very important and ongoing process. At the same time I try to pay back for being gifted a life: my identity prompts me to be a caretaker at the house and community meeting places, by keeping a place clean. I use my sensitivity and forecast to refine, balance and make the environment of the place welcoming and inviting to people, the processes that take place in the different forums and workshops and I take care that there are good atmospheres maintained. Another way that the identity prompts me, as I’m getting older, is to be a counsellor to people in an informal way. In that context I use my experience in life as a nurse together with my learning that I keep doing in the area of personal development and growing my personal religion. Now, being in my third age, the most important issue for me is to reach as far as I can to pay back for the magnificence of life by passing experience to others because I’ve been given so much richness from it in my life. Getting older is in one way better than being young, because you’ve built something real that is the ‘you inside’. You come to an age where you must reach to that place inside, you’re almost forced to go there, there’s such a strong need. After menopause I felt that now is the time for the discovery of the inner life. You can’t see it on the outside, nobody knows that inside is such a flow, in which you feel more, there is more insight, more knowing, it’s much more intimate, like going into a garden. You see that everything is part of a bigger world. I used to have a busy job as mother and nurse. But it never was about me, I was always in the identities of the world. Yet I loved being a nurse, I was so glad to help people. But then in my fifties I had to find out about myself, not about children and other people. I only found myself at 55, and it’s still going on, it’s such a journey to find out who you exactly are. You can be so many things, but so many layers are put on you when you’re young. At 50 I found that’s not me, I have now to pull off layers, like habits. That confrontation with the many selves on this ‘know yourself’ journey has absolutely given me a bigger opportunity to find out about what life is. I’ve always searched for spirituality and religion and I couldn’t find it in books. Now I’ve found it inside myself. I’m more a devotional person; it’s working through feelings in me. I’ve got a much broader spectrum about life and about the afterlife. I don’t know how it will be but I prepare for my death by being as much of help as I can, not for egotistical reasons but because I’ve got wisdom to share. Even if you’re not physically strong anymore you can always be helping and willing. People often phone me for counsel, because I seem to be good at settling people. I still want to do a lot in life, to be of help. That is my great drive. What better is there to do if it’s to assist the whole along?

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