Now, before I get into the subject at hand let say that for simplicity my use of gender is not meant to be exclusive. The last I heard there are now 7 recognized genders and it is acceptable to flop around from one to the other. At the risk of offending someone, I am going to keep it simple. Besides, I am still trying to figure out how to deal with the two genders I grew up with (male and female) and have no capacity to handle 7 fluid ones. Feel free to substitute any gender you feel like today. So, to the aging issue.
What qualifies me as an expert on aging? I’m old. That is all it takes to be an expert at anything. Time and experience.
Aging is a lot like fog. It sort of sneaks up on you. Everyone has gone to bed one night with a sky full of stars, a bright moon, and a peaceful heart. Only to wake the next morning and not be able to see the road sign at the end of the block. During the night a heavy fog has slipped in with no warning, no noise, and without your permission. Not that you could have stopped it anyway. So it is with aging. It seems that you go to bed one night only to discover that you have aged overnight.
As we blithely live our lives we all get the usual low blows that life deals out. The fender benders and the total train wrecks if you will. Those range from a root cannel, to a major illness, to a failed relationship, a friend that becomes toxic, to a death in the family, and everything in between.
But, we pull on our “big boy pants” and bull through the problems pressing onward. We have become masters at taking a bad situation and making it better. We are bulletproof.
Then one day, or our horror we look in the mirror and there is some old man looking back at us and we don’t know him.
Okay, as we age we begin to see some hints of that process. That may happen in one’s 40s or later. But, none of us like to confront bad news so we ignore or rationalize the fact that there is more hair in our hairbrush. Then we begin to notice an extra line or two in our face around the eyes and mouth. At some point, our joints begin to crack when we stand up and ache when the weather changes. Then one day, or our horror we look in the mirror and there is some old man looking back at us and we don’t know him. The guy has bags under his eyes, drooping jowls. lines in his face that look like small dry river beds, and a balding head.
We also find that our medical team of a G.P, dentist, and perhaps an OB/GYN has morphed into a small army. We have along the way collected a dental surgeon, a cataract surgeon, a pulmonologist, a radiologist, a cardiologist, a pediatrist, a rheumatologist, and two or three that we don’t remember what they do.
Over time you succumb to making certain sacrifices. You start using a cane after a couple of falls. Then one morning you see that the cane you left leaning against the nightstand has fallen onto the floor. Your morning inventory of working parts will have to wait until you figure out a way to get your cane off the floor without joining it down there.
Then to the coffee pot. The next challenge of the day is to get a cup of coffee and the book you are reading out to the deck without spilling the coffee or dropping the book. Your hands are a bit shaky this morning, so it may take two trips.
This may all sound a little bleak to those not yet there, but have faith. There are hundreds of companies that offer anti-aging creams, lotions, tonics, and pills. Even surgeons to fix that sagging skin. All for a price of course. So, now you have joined that elite group known as senior citizens. The group that spends billions of dollars every year to roll the clock back, stop the aging, or at least slow the process. You can even join a group that offers discounts at many restaurants and retailers, but you usually have to ask for the discount and many find that embarrassing.
Well, the bad news is that none of that works to stop aging so get over it. The only tried and proven way to avoid aging is to die young and I have yet to find anyone who thinks that a good idea. So the best we can do is to age gracefully and be happy that we are granted to chance to have skin that one can see the veins through.
A final word to those not yet old. Be patient. Given time you too can become an expert on aging.
Ken I love this. Look beside you and you will see me walking with you.
Thanks, Larry. Your company will be very welcome and will help to smooth the path.
Thank you, Ken, for this excellent article. It’s interesting that we are, I am, at the age where, at 20 years old, I thought people were OLD. And it warms my heart to recognize that even as we struggle with pain and add to our collection of medical personnel, we have acquired knowledge and experience. When we apply those correctly, we demonstrate wisdom. Something no one can take away from us. I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Thanks, Yvonne. You made my day happier.
Wow, I’m flattered. Now I’m in the category of “better with age” just like cheese and wine. I had begun to think I was more like a cucumber. You know, best preserved when soaked in vinegar.
When I was thinking about a reply to your wonderful post, so may adjectives came to mind, at least seven, like those genders you refer to. This is a truly sage, inspired set of prose, so cleverly crafted, it informs, amuses and is self deprecating. It’s charming and it’s all true and I relate almost 100% to it. I admire your earnestness and your cleverness. Thank you for cheering my day.
Thanks, Christopher, for you response. You made my day in return.
Thank you for this insight Ken!
Not sure I am old yet… maybe I am. I do know I am moving that direction with all people born in my year.
Trying not to resist but embrace. Knowing that life is good, complicated and short. #grateful
Carolyn: Someone even older than I once told me that you are not old until you think you are old. So, think you are young and stick to the story. Thanks for pointing out that attitude has much to do with how one feels.
Ken, good article with words to ponder considering how the aging process really doesn’t take hold till we are on the slope down from the peak. We look back and realize how fast the years have passed, but like all good things, the longer the aging process, the better it is. I am glad to be allowed by God our creator to continue to have another year and when I look in the mirror and see the effects of those years I realize how much I have done in my life, but especially how much I have made a difference in peoples lives. You make a difference no doubt. God Bless and here’s to another year!
Lynn: Isn’t it interesting how much faster time goes when we get older? You make a good point about impacting the life of others. Many times we don’t even know that we have had an impact.
There does come a time when the downsides to aging can’t be denied anymore — like not being able to find your glasses because you can’t see to find your glasses — or being referred to as a “sweet lady.” We all know what word is missing there!
But there are compensations in each chapter of the journey. Although I’ll never wear shorts in public again, my fingers will never be straight again, and hikes have less speed, less miles and less inclines, I know that I am an encourager, an uplifter, a calm voice in the storm. These are not attributes I could have claimed when pretty and smart were the major tools in my kit. I figure it’s time to be beautiful in new, more compassionate and significant ways.
Not too long ago, I asked my mother and four of her friends — all in their mid-nineties — what the compensation was for all the limitations, the indignities and invisibility of their chapter in life. I was expecting — my family, my memories, my accomplishments, my wisdom, wearing whatever I darn well please… As different as all these ladies were in education, experience, personality and priorities, they ALL said the same thing: “My friends.”
Why? Their answer was that only their friends knew what it was like to be so close to the end. Yes, we might all be moments away from our last breath, but for someone in their nineties, it’s much more of a looming shadow on their days.
To me, this truth carries a mandate to stay connected with our generational compatriots — for insight, for belonging, for hope, for solace — and to find new ways to be beautiful, to be strong, to have purpose.
Thank you, Ken, for this treatise to solidarity when we need it the most.
Thank you Susan for your insightful response. The value of friends certainly takes on a richer and fuller meaning as we age. You mention another, and perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of aging, that of becoming invisible. That ranks up there with becoming irrelevant.
With your humorous prose you have described very well what happens as you get older and the conclusion is a good suggestion for facing old age decently. Some time ago I published a poem (not mine) on LinkedIn which I report below.
AND THE SUNSET COMES
Lord, I get older, you know better than me
and one day I too will be part of the old ones.
Preserve me from the fatal habit
to believe that over all
and on all occasions
have something to say.
Free me from the haunting desire
to bring order to the affairs of others.
Make me a serious person but not surly,
helpful but not authoritarian.
I’m sorry not to make useful
my reservations of true experience,
but You know, Lord,
I would like to keep some friends.
Hold me from endlessly repeating the same things.
Give me wings to reach the goal.
Seal my lips on my aches and pains,
although they are constantly increasing
and always be sweeter to me,
with the passing of the years, enumerate them.
I dare not ask you to reach true concern
for the story of the pains of others.
But help me to listen to them patiently.
I dare not ask you a better memory,
but always give me more true humility
and a lesser self assurance
when my memory collides with others.
Teach me the glorious lesson
that I too can be wrong.
I do not aspire so much to holiness:
some saints make life difficult!
But the old man’s bitterness is undoubtedly one of the most
successful inventions of the devil.
Make me able to see the good
where it was least expected
and to recognize talents
to people who seemed to have none
and give me the grace to be able to tell him
Aldo: That poem has so much wisdom that I had to read it twice. Thanks for sharing it again.
Take care of you!
You have only gotten better with age my friend just like the wine at the wedding at Cana—the best for last!