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
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
course, this isnít always the case.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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