Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

How Do We Define Age?

March 6, 2023

How Do We Define Age?

There’s a gentleman in my men’s Bible study who started painting when he was 67. He’s 75 now, and he’s completed 300 paintings and sold 50 of them.

He has developed a prolific talent, one that he wasn’t even pursuing until after his senior discounts kicked in. 

When he told me his story, it got me thinking. What defines “old” as we age?

Certainly, our perception of age changes with every birthday. When I greet families as they come into church on Sundays, one of my favorite jokes with younger kids when they tell me their age is to exclaim, “Wow! You’re almost as old as me!”

Their look of disbelief should offend me. But I know that when my kids were 5 or 6, they thought I was super old. I was in my 20s and 30s, and they’d tell me, “Papi, you’re so old.”

I’m 41 now. My 75-year-old painter friend tells me I’m young. According to his timeline, I have 26 more years to discover a new, secret talent. 

On the other hand, our Heart2Heart volunteers who visit care centers will tell you that some residents are much younger than 65. However, they can no longer live on their own. For whatever reason, their bodies are aging quicker.

It’s never too late

All this got me thinking about how we can let age define us. We begin to think that we’re too old to do the things that we’ve always wanted to do. 

Why do we feel that it’s too late? Because it’s not, in my opinion. My friend didn’t think 67 was too late to start painting. 

There’s also a danger in waiting too long to tackle life ambitions. I’ll give you an example that starts with my own story. 

As a teenager, I dropped out of high school. Later in life, I got a second chance to pursue my education, starting with an associates degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University. To earn my degree, I attended night classes with other working adults. One of my classmates was a lady, who I believe was about 65. 

One day she wasn’t there. We found out she was sick. We prayed for her as a class. 

Weeks went by before we found out that she had died. The school ended up giving her an honorary degree, the same degree that she had almost finished.

Going to her homecoming celebration was eye-opening. I found out that this woman had spent most of her life working as a school cafeteria lady within an impoverished neighborhood. 

She had made it her life mission to always have money on her so she could pay for kids who needed lunch. Kids who had forgotten money that day or whose parents hadn’t filed the paperwork for free lunches due to drug addiction or other major obstacles. 

She retired after 30 years in the public school system. She decided her next assignment was to get a degree. 

Her story leads me to believe that sometimes, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s never too late to do anything.

I wonder if we can give the older people around us the encouragement to do the thing that they’ve been holding back on. People at any age should have the freedom to explore, keeping in mind safety as best they can. They should be able to pursue ambitions they didn’t have the chance to do before. 

Even if the hobby doesn’t result in 50 sales, the pursuit of a new life skill or talent is worthy in and of itself.  

Inspiring feats can happen at any age

In case you need some inspiration, here are some impressive accomplishments by seniors … and youngsters:

At 72, longtime aviator Margaret Ringenberg completed the “Round-The-World” Air Race.

At 81, Bill Painter became the oldest person to climb Mount Rainier in Washington State. 

At 92, Paul Spangler completed the New York City Marathon, after failing the attempt at age 90.

At 26, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Montgomery bus boycott

At 21, Thomas Edison created his first invention: an electronic vote counter. 

At 5, Wolfgang Mozart composed his first piece of music. 

Age is a number. It shouldn’t define you. Seize the day! No matter what age you find yourself.

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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Juan Gallo

This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

Join me for weekly discussions about what it means to be a senior in South Florida and how we can and should respond to the growing needs of the aging population.

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