"But if I don't have children, who will care for me when I'm old?"
Sharon Salzberg, 52, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts, and author of Lovingkindness and Faith: "I don't have children, and my whole family of origin was so fractured—my mother died when I was young, and my father was gone. So I've re-created a sense of family among my friends. Creating these kinds of connections is something we all have to do, whether we have children or not. Yes, some parents have close relationships with their children. Others don't. An adult child might get a job and move to the other side of the world. None of it is in our control. Because of the way my life unfolded when I was young, I learned the truth about change, the uncertainty of life. My meditation practice has helped me peel away my assumptions about how much control I have."
Rachel Naomi Remen: "I have to laugh. My life experience is that people with children are often alone in old age. Having children is not a safety hedge. I have friends with three or four kids who live around the country. These friends end up with a couple of phone calls a week, if that. They're often alone in the same way that women who are married might still feel alone. The fact is that everything is impermanent. I think the people who have connected only to their families may be more vulnerable than those who connect more broadly. We need to learn how to be alone. You do that by developing depth within yourself, interests that are yours, a connection to something larger than yourself. You develop your own sense of the meaning of life. Having children is no insurance policy."
"I'm worried about losing my looks and feeling the pressure to have plastic surgery."
Dr. Maya Angelou, 77, acclaimed poet and author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: "The surface, the superficial, the way one looks has become valued too highly in our society. When the skin begins to sag, many women go for Botox. Why on earth would you let somebody stick a needle in your face just to get rid of a wrinkle? Here's the real question: What do we have to do to place more value on age? We have to value ourselves not for what we look like or the things we possess but for the women we are.
"The most important thing I can tell you about aging is this: If you really feel that you want to have an off-the-shoulder blouse and some big beads and thong sandals and a dirndl skirt and a magnolia in your hair, do it. Even if you're wrinkled."
Joan Hamburg, radio host of The Joan Hamburg Show, WOR Radio in New York: "Would I have a facelift? No. I'm sure I'd be the one whose nose would end up on my boobs! I might be the only person in America who feels that way. I just came back from a 60th-birthday party, and I said to my husband, 'My God, I'm going to be the oldest living human being. Look at these women—they're all sucked and pulled and tucked.' But you can tell. In my head, I'm still 20. Yes, my body could use a zipper, but that's okay with me. When I get up in the morning, I look at all my parts and I think, This is good. This is good."
Barbara Ehrenreich, 64, political essayist, social critic, and author of Nickel and Dimed: "I've had fears about my body changing, and I've dealt with that by becoming kind of a jock. During my early 40s, I developed terrible back problems. I thought, This is just a completely downward trajectory unless I change my life. So a friend dragged me to a gym—I had always disdained fitness as a yuppie obsession. But once I began, I thought, This is great. I'm actually much stronger and more fit now than I was 20 years ago."
Elizabeth Lesser, 52, cofounder and senior adviser of the Omega Institute: "I've realized that aging is the younger cousin of dying. Is my face sagging? Is my body creaking? These questions just bring up the ultimate one: How much time do I have left? We become aware that we're on the downside of the mountain, coasting toward our final days. I was with my mother as she was dying last year, and I became aware that yes, indeed, it's true: Each one of us does have a short time on earth. The wrinkles and the double chin are smoke screens for what we're really afraid of—mortality. I happen to believe that our souls continue after we're gone, and that makes life on earth less fearful. We're here for a reason, and challenges are handed to us so we can grow and become more of who we're meant to be. So I deal with my fear of aging and death by making it my spiritual practice. Not turning away from it, not pretending it doesn't exist, not slapping on a cosmetic Band-Aid. But by taking on a more fearless attitude toward what really is happening to my body and my life."
We Hear You!