Editorís Note: The year you turn 65 is kind of a milestone, and one can become rather obsessed with the subject of aging at this point. One thing I noticed recently is that I no longer call anyone ďMr.Ē There arenít a whole lot of things you can say about getting older that are positive, but Iím trying here to look at the upside of going from older to old.


Shades of Gray

 

I turned 65 this year, which removed the ď-erĒ from ďolder.Ē From infancy through middle age and beyond, aging is a given, but 65 officially designates a senior citizen.

We Baby Boomers are now talking about the things that have always consumed old people ó the aches and pains, the medications and devices that keep us functioning, the things we canít do anymore and the things we donít even care about doing anymore. Meanwhile, the glass-half-full types are talking about their ďbucket lists,Ē a concept described in a Jack Nicholson film hated by the critics, but beloved by those over 60.

Bucket lists involve the things we wish weíd done when we were young, and now pretend weíll be doing in old age. Mine is pretty boring, because Iím realistic enough to concede that, if I didnít surf the Banzai Pipeline, eat fugu or bungee jump off the Matterhorn by now, I probably wonít be doing it on my way to 70. Maybe Iíll learn to play bridge or the harmonica, but nothing too strenuous, dangerous or exciting.

One truism thatís not true is that for every loss thereís a gain. Over 65, the ratio is more like 10:1. However, life is problematic enough these days, so letís look at the upside of the journey to dilapidation. (Iím sure you can come up with your own list too.)

You donít have to respect your elders: Like most men of my generation, I was taught to respect older people and that age confers wisdom. But now that Iím old, do I really have elders anymore? I recently had an argument with an older guy that went totally off the rails. Although I didnít respect his opinion, I felt a bit guilty that I was unable to conceal my contempt for someone senior to me.

On the other hand, he didnít show me any respect either, and Iím old too. Iím skeptical that we receive any extra wisdom after 65, so I donít see myself getting any smarter between now and the big dirt nap. Logically, this makes me at least the equal of my elders, who are even further down the road to decrepitude and incoherence than I am.

Corollary: You get respect you didnít earn: I work at a company full of young people (my boss is young enough to be my daughter). I might be the oldest guy my fellow employees see walking the halls during their workday, because anyone older than me has probably retired or expired already.  

I was taught to open doors for a lady, but 25-year-old girls now open doors for me. Itís either a sign of respect or fear I might stroke out trying to do it myself. Young people often call me ďsirĒ and politely defer to me, even when I have nothing perceptive to say. Or maybe they have enough manners to wait till Iím out of the room to roll their eyes.

Of course, this isnít always the case.

Itís okay to get fat: One ďcriticĒ of my articles, who canít refute them, regularly calls me ďoldĒ and ďfat.Ē Because heíll one day be the former and is already pretty much the latter, I canít take this too seriously. Most of my friends have fattened up, even those who had trouble keeping weight on in their youth (yes, that really is a thing), so Iíve become less self-conscious about my own girth. These days, I regularly find myself in the company of enough aging blubber to fuel the whale oil lamps of Colonial Williamsburg.

Bad memories evolve into good stories: Years ago, back when I still exercised, I made some friends at a gym. When a twenty-something in our group was blindsided by his fiancťe just weeks before their wedding ó she slept with one of the ushers ó we older guys tried to console him, and I came to two conclusions.

First, although it provides no comfort to the newly afflicted, nearly everyone over 25 has a similar experience thatís left him bruised and battered. Second, most youthful traumas gradually morph into amusing stories. As the pain disappears, you notice that the more you tell your story, the better you tell it, and the more you enjoy telling it. Many of lifeís worst events become just another patch in the crazy quilt that makes all of us who we are.

 

Thereís less need to worry about the future: This last oneís a paradox. The worst thing about your life story is that it will end badly, and not even the senior discount can soften that. As Woody Allen put it, ďIím not afraid of dying; I just donít want to be there when it happens.Ē Bluesman Albert King concurred: ďEverybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.Ē And itís getting closer every day.

Still, as your days dwindle down, the upside is that the window for bad things to happen is narrowing. Climate change will someday cause the ocean to drown Miami, but Iím likely to be gone before Long Island Sound fills my basement. The deficit will bankrupt the country, and we old people will bankrupt Social Security, but hopefully not before Iím bereft of life. Astronomers warn that an extinction-wielding asteroid will someday incinerate the Earth, but the odds it arrives before I check out diminish every day.  

Which brings me to the one serious item on my bucket list. Because my father, a veteran of the Greatest Generation, set a good example by ďdying like a man,Ē Iíd like to go bravely too ó without whining, tears or groveling. The problem is Iím not at all sure I can pull that off. But at least I wonít have all that long to worry about it.


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