We are your templates — a poem about growing old

Growing old at any time is bound to be confusing. Being one member of a globally ageing population is doubly confusing. Our parents didn’t grow old like this! If you’re lucky, you too will grow old one day. So watch us as your models, good or bad.

We are your templates

When we bang on about our trips
and our memoirs and our blogs
and our grandchildren (the best of kind)
and our ills and pills and volunteering
and our hearing aids and hips
pay attention, don’t switch off
this is the first time we’ve ever grown old
and we’re wondering how to do it
not just for us but for you.

I state my age out loud and often
not because I’m proud
but to populate the middle ground
between the ones you know:

the marathon-running nonagenarian
and your tragic memory of someone
whose ending was unbearable
as far as you could tell.

I’m a middle child, an average, a sample
squatting on top of a bell curve
and my name is Legion.
You don’t notice us but we’re OK.
Look at us and know
old age has many faces
let’s keep our options open.

Rachel McAlpine

Buy the book that features this poem

Two happy and lively old people, the woman waving.

Notice some old people? Look and learn. They all model different ways of growing old. Which way will be your way?


Reflections on life as we grow old

It’s true: growing old in a first world country today is confusing. To some the “silver tsunami” is a national horror story for the economy, business, the health system and more. To others it’s an opportunity for well-being after retirement. Every scenario is playing out simultaneously. We can’t see the big picture yet. We can only do our best at the task of growing old, based on our personal values and a lifetime of practice.

MP3 recording of this poem

Buy the book that features this poem

Poem and photo CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine. Feel free to share, citing my name as the author.


32 thoughts on “We are your templates — a poem about growing old

  1. Great post!

    1. Thank you!

      1. No problem 🙂 check out my blog when you get the chance 🙂

  2. We are the future, and it ain’t so bad.

    1. You are living proof of this.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I am always struck by how differently we adjust to aging. Some sure go kicking, screaming, face lifting and hair dying into it. As for me, I earned every wrinkle and my body is lovingly described by my granddaughter as “nicely squishy.”

    1. It’s good that there are now so many templates and role models for ageing. It means we can choose our own.

  4. Claudette says:

    Love. This.

  5. Haha! I think our brains are tuning into the same wavelength, Rachel. I just love this poem! It says so many things I think but says them poshly (I just came across that word, so had to use it, 🙂 — and it’s perfect for the way you wrote about getting older, so well, elegantly).

    I mean, yes–we haven’t ever been old before, right? so as I tell my 20-something kids–Mitght as well laught, because you’ll be checking out bifocals and –and HEARING AIDS, for Pete’s sake, one day yourselves!

    But thank God, (seriously) they were invented.
    Who’d want to go around half-blind and nearly deaf half their lives?!

    1. Feel free to use the poem if it makes your point! I feel soooo lucky to be living now rather than in the era of ear trumpets and magnifying glasses. The current hearing aids are downright cute.

  6. So well expressed. It’s the first time I’ve ever been old… and I’m doing just fine.

    1. That is excellent news. We are lucky.

    2. You are indeed 🙂

  7. toutparmoi says:

    A fine poem, Rachel. I do wish people would stop regarding old age with shame and dread. It has its pluses and minuses, but doesn’t every stage of life?

    1. Absolutely! And each age group has its share of the frail and lonely, too.

  8. Robyn Haynes says:

    Hooray for the middlegrounders!

    1. I felt strangely satisfied to hear that as a child I was a happy, NORMAL little girl. Now I consider myself a happy, normal old woman 🙂

      1. Robyn Haynes says:

        Me too Rachel. But what is normal? such a contextual notion. A friend always makes us laugh when she orders a “normal” coffee. She means “regular” of course. So is normal what the majority deems it? Today it’s normal to be healthy and engaged into middle old age, which in times past might have been “normal” at age fifty. I’m still finding my way in this adventure called old age. So grateful to have people like you to converse with along the way.

      2. For me, “normal” meant I was accepted as not too odd! That is quite a handy camouflage. Data Massey University reports that

      3. Funny I am sure I was not what would be classed as your normal child, so I suppose that means I am still slightly on the quirky side. What’s “normal”?

      4. Stay quirky. I try to “pass”.

      5. No problem in achieving that 🙂

  9. … 60 per cent of New Zealanders aged 65+ have robust or “average” mental and physical health and social life, so this is “normal” now. (The main determinants are income and housing, which casts a sad light on privilege.)

    1. Hasn’t income and housing always been a predeterminant to a person’s physical and mental health, no matter what their age?

      1. Absolutely forever.

  10. Robyn Haynes says:

    Yes. That is disappointing but not surprising.

  11. Joared says:

    Like your poem! Normal is a range in a continuum with what some might consider extemes on either end is how I view the term. I think we’re all a bit quirky in somebody’s eyes. Is there anyone who hasn’t wondered at some time in their life if they might be out of step with everyone else — too different?

    1. It’s certainly not unusual to consider yourself unusual!

  12. candidkay says:

    “this is the first time we’ve ever been old and we’re wondering how to do it”–my favorite line! Oh, this one is a keeper, Rachel. Well done.

    1. Thank you Kay! When I write in a rush I’m never sure which poems will last the distance. Which is oddly apt.

  13. Love this. Yes, we’re all new to old age, and learning as we go. I hadn’t thought of it like that before!

    1. Not sure how one could rehearse this.