I think I’ve figured out this aging thing. I mean not entirely, probably not even mostly, but I think I have a better handle on it now that I am most definitively old in terms of chronological age and in terms of what most people my sons’ ages think of as old.
For the record, I just turned 68, and my sons are 33 and 31. They are in the flower of their developing adulthood, while I am in the withering stage of mine.
But I am not nearly as depressed about it as you might think, mainly because, even at this exalted age (two years from the life expectancy I was born with), I’m in good health and have all of my mental faculties intact. I’m still productive in my work and still enjoy rigorous daily workouts at my gym. I still enjoy a connubial relationship with my wife and still haven’t had need for the sexual enhancers that are now the vogue, although I will admit that in recent years I have at least gained an understanding of the basis for their popularity.
But enough with the borderline TMI; here’s what I’ve come to understand about getting old:
I first recognized that I was beyond the period of life that I’ll call youthful adulthood when I turned 40. In that single year, I started to have knee issues from my years of jogging and, faced with the option of going under the knife for arthroscopic surgery, I stopped running and joined my gym, where the aerobic equipment serves to bring me close to the runner’s highs I used to so enjoy. I also started to notice significant changes in my eyesight, no longer using glasses as an option, but most definitely needing them (or contact lenses, which I then started to wear). In that same year, I also suffered a torn ligament in my left thumb when I caught a hard thrown football in a pickup game with friends. And I had my first serious back pain (lasting for several days) that year.
So 40 was a turning point, to be sure. But once I accommodated to those physical changes (I’d say deteriorations, but I want to stay positive), the balance of that decade was good, very good, in fact. I think I was most productive and most engaged in my forties, finally having figured out enough about myself to understand what I wanted to do and how to be most effective at doing it.
I developed a benign form of chronic lung disease when I turned 50. Although it subjected me to severe coughing fits for a number of months, it did gradually resolve/dissipate, so that it is no longer an issue. But then, at the end of that decade, I had my bout with cancer. I was 59, and I was still working out daily at pretty intense aerobic levels (sustaining my heart rate at around 150 and peaking at 170 just about every day).
The tumor was in my neck, where it had probably migrated from my throat. I had surgery to remove it and then had six weeks of hellish radiation therapy to make sure it didn’t come back. It hasn’t, and for the last three-and-a-half years, I’ve been considered cured (if you can ever be cured of cancer). The radiation has caused secondary side effects, some of which have been unpleasant, but for the most part, I am “as good as new” as a post-cancer survivor.
Except, of course, that I’m not, because in the intervening years, I have gotten firmly into senior citizen status, with discounts available to me at all the local movie theaters. Other things have also kept me in touch with the aging I have experienced. In the last three years, for example, I’ve lost most of my hair. No biggie, you might be saying, but it takes some getting used to, even if no one else cares. I’ve also developed many more of the “aches and pains” that are the body’s way of saying, “you can’t do that anymore.”
Thus, a round of golf now requires a day of recovery to keep my back from barking at me and my knees (which still remain uncut) from wanting to buckle as I climb a flight of stairs. And an occasional bout of insomnia (a chronic condition I’ve suffered with for most of my adult life) will leave me struggling to stay awake midway through the next day.
I also have more trouble remembering the names of actors, perhaps the first sign of what in future years, I assume, will mark the degradation of my mental capacities. My mother, about to turn 93, suffers fairly severe short-term memory loss, although she is still vivid in her recollection of events from my childhood (and hers!). I suppose worse things can befall one in one’s dotage than having to be reminded repeatedly what the plans for dinner are. My mother is still a voracious reader. On a visit last month I found her to be reading no fewer than seven books, and she was conversant on all of them.
And so, it’s all relative, this aging thing. I’m certainly less capable physically in all areas than I was ten, twenty or thirty years ago. I’ll undoubtedly become even less capable as I age into whatever time is left for me. And I’m also on the downslope of my intellectual powers, although I still feel comfortable in that area, thankfully.
In the end, we all get old and wither, unless death comes for us at an earlier age. I remember my grandmother, who was vital into her 80s, telling me mournfully that she had lived too long, when her mind and body both started to fail her badly. It’s a fate that awaits me, too, I suppose, if I have that kind of longevity.
But in the meantime, life is still good, very good, in fact. And old age, while nothing to be overjoyed about, isn’t as bad as you might suspect. And, as they say, it sure beats the alternative.