Colorful people like you and me can serve a purpose. That’s one of the thoughts that UCLA psychology professor Alan Castel shares in his new book, Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging. Castel notes that his interest in gerontology started when he was a child, spending considerable time with older relatives—many of them genuinely unique characters who displayed traits that fascinated him.
This insight got me to thinking about the colorful older adults who populated my life as a child. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count their number. I could fill any number of these entries telling you about people like Uncle Harry—born and raised in Bugscuffle, TX—or my grandmother who wrote homespun poetry. I could recall with you the life stories of older adults who exceeded mere eccentricity—like my grandfather who produced and sold a miracle medicine made from the dried-up salts of California’s Mono Lake.
Perhaps all of us can find colorful people in our past. And we could probably share the valuable lessons or traits we carried away from our encounters with them—how their unique characteristics shaped us.
There’s another side to this idea, though, and it involves you and me right now. The thought seems simple enough: We could be the colorful people for younger people! Trying to find role models, our younger family members might think of us as remarkable examples of how to live outside of the box. Even if we consider our lives relatively normal, the stories of our coming of age might inspire grandchildren to take a chance on a career, resist easy paths, persist against odds, follow their passions or march to different drummers. Our peculiar life experiences could hold insights for how younger family members can face their own out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. Our steadfast commitment to spiritual values—perhaps seeming odd or out-of-place—could assure those who follow us to hold tightly to their own moral and ethical standards. We may notice what most people miss seeing.
It may seem odd to think of ourselves as colorful, odd, surprising, beyond-easy-description or even weird. But consider how just being older makes us attention-worthy. We made our own toys, invented our own games and spent much of our leisure time outside. Our school days were filled with different ways of learning. Our former hobbies might be exquisitely rare.. We know things—some of them arcane—that are still interesting. Some of our unusual skills might still be valuable in non-electronic settings. We have friends, co-workers and family members who accomplished astonishing feats. We have lived through remarkable historic events and trends. Our vocations have taken us into surprising situations and relationships. We have persisted and prospered; we’re satisfied with our lives in spite of present circumstances. We tell good stories.
Holding the attention of our younger family members, we can claim a place in their lives—as role models, trusted advisors or assuring friends. With the coating of “colorful” around our personalities, we could help family members find their purpose in God’s will, and their own unique capabilities to change the world.
What colorful people we are…!
*To read more of Dr. Alan Castel’s insights, visit the web site for Oxford University Press https://global.oup.com/academic/product/better-with-age-9780190279981?cc=us&lang=en&#