Getting Older: It Could Happen to You
(Posted February 3)
These days I’m kidding myself if I insist I’m middle-aged. I’m 64, and counting. Sure, the hair-color ads and the AARP insist that the 60’s are the new 50’s or 40’s or whatever, but that’s just people selling you something.
When your decade begins with a 6, the truth about your age has a way of breaking through. You feel it when you get up after sitting on the floor, or when you harbor no guilt when going to bed at ten o’clock.
I was 16 years old when I first heard Paul Simon sing, “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly…how terribly strange to be 70.” At the time I couldn’t imagine 70. Utterly impossible. Now it’s just around the corner.
If you’re younger than 40 you’re already losing interest in this topic. But if you’re just a bit older you’re still reading, because you’re starting to wonder what it’s going to be like—what it’s really going to be like—when you just can’t kid the kid in you any longer.
Consider this a postcard from your future you. I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it isn’t much fun watching your body slowly deteriorate. But the good news is that if you play your cards right there are compensations. Good ones.
First, your body. Here is the unavoidable truth: No matter how many millions the advertisers spend to convince you otherwise, by your late 40’s and certainly in your 50’s, you will start to fade a bit, sag a bit, grey a bit, and wilt a bit. But (the good news part) by the time you hit my age you’ll realize it doesn’t really matter. Sure, you want to eat healthy food and get some exercise. You’ll want to look as good as you can given your age, but all that unrealistic crap the marketers shoved down your throat about how much you need to spend to fit someone else’s idea of beauty—as you get older you get over it. And so does the opposite gender. Think of being free of all that body shame. It’s great. It really is.
As for, um, passion—it doesn’t go away. But in time you’re able to get some perspective on it. It won’t rule you and boss you around like it used to. You’ll control it, instead of it controlling you. From the perspective of youth, this may not sound all that great, but it is. You’ll finally get to be an adult about something that, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve been childish about for decades.
The truth is that in your older years you will pretty much get what you deserve in the things that matter most. If you have been loving, the love flows back without reservation. If you’ve been disciplined in your approach to finances, you’ll likely be able to live modestly in your later years without too much worry. If you’ve maintained your health, it will hang around longer. You’ll have more time to do something of worth in your community and give more time to the interests that have enriched your life. These are significant blessings.
But there are, of course, no guarantees. Some fitness fanatics die young, and some smokers live to 90. Financial planners can be wiped out in a recession, and bums can win the lottery. Some people we love may depart life before we do. Old age is clearly a risky business, fraught with pitfalls and unforeseen problems. Which, come to think of it, is exactly like the 50’s, and the 40’s, and all the other decades of life.
As the years pass the flames of youth burn back to reveal glowing coals. And it’s the coals that carry the greatest heat. That’s the way it is with fire, and that’s the way it is with you and I. Old age is to finally see clearly what’s most important.
My best advice: roll with the punches, keep your sense of humor, feed your head, and make sure you love a lot of people and they love you back. That last one is important—no matter what your circumstances, never stop adding to your circle of loved ones. No matter what happens in your life, human love is the great compensation of growing old. And it really does get better and better.