I have this to say about aging gracefully:
People have been telling me for years that “old” is a state of mind. The implication being that if you don’t think old, then somehow, you won’t be old. That too is
There is a hidden admonishment in this magical thinking, that if you do feel old, you must be doing it wrong. I notice that only people much younger than me ever talk like that. Today, I realize that they are wrong. Today, aging scares the shit out of me. I can feel myself aging, and I’m pissed. And scared.
My barber, Dean, has been cutting hair for over 60 years. He’s been in the same location since 1958, and he’s been cutting my hair for 18 years. He gave both Greg and Sam their first non-mom haircuts, when they were about 5.
When I first went to Dean he worked with two other barbers. Nowadays he is alone, his previous partners having died or become too ill to keep on. But Dean still works from 6am to noon, until recently 5 days a week. He’s down to 4 days now, slowly winding down with the only explanation a handwritten note on the door, apologizing for the inconvenience but citing “health problems.” What he means is that he’s feeling old.
Dean is 86, and his back hurts when he stands and cuts the hair of more than 3 men in a row. He notes from time to time his aches and pains, and his wife’s health problems, when chatting as he cuts, his hand trembling more each time I see him.
He notes but does not complain. Ever.
Because Dean’s barber shop is the kind of place it is, everyone chats. Today, the man ahead of me in the chair was getting a trim of his few remaining wisps. He, 85, looked ravaged by age, bent and frail. He walked with a cane and his wife’s help, and he was on oxygen. He had been a movie projectionist for many years, until the advent of automated digital projectors rendered him unnecessary. He hasn’t worked since. This was not the romantic picture of aging I’d come to fantasize about.
“They always told me that getting older would be like this,” his wife said to me. “I never believed them, but they were right.”
She wasn’t complaining, just stating the facts. I realized as she spoke that the idea that you are only as old as you feel is, well,
I think young. I am a tiny rowboat of blue in an ocean of red, the same bleeding-heart liberal I’ve always been. I love being around the college students I have the good fortune to teach, and mentoring the younger generation who will take over the company when us old farts have moved on. I have really good sex on a regular basis.
Those things keep me from thinking old, but they don’t change the fact that my body often feels old, and that I am in fact moving inexorably toward being old.
Five years ago, as Facebook so helpfully reminded me a few days ago, I ran my first half-marathon race in decent time (1:46). I was in the best physical condition of my life. Today, I can no longer run without my knees complaining, loudly. Hell, I can’t even walk long distances without pain. I am 20 lbs. heavier. I’ve had another cardiac ablation. I eat adult pez (ibuprophen) on a regular basis.
I am aging, and I don’t have an unlimited amount of time left. Period.
So, now that I realize I can’t get it all done, and that my horizons are not limitless, here are a few choices I am determined to make:
- No more misery. Sadness, I will feel. Some days I will weep with grief. But I don’t have time to waste on being miserable.
- No more cowering. Fear, I will feel. Startled and frightened of threats, I will be. But I don’t have time to waste on cowering.
- No more hatred. Anger, I will feel. Welling up from my toes, I will feel angry about things both big and small. But I don’t have time to waste on hatred.
- No more clinging. Joy, desire, happiness I will feel. My heart swelling to bursting, some days I will feel great joy. But I don’t have time to waste on clinging to those moments either.
I am aging, and I don’t have an unlimited amount of time left. Neither do you.
Dylan Thomas may have said it best: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying light.“
Or maybe that other Dylan said it even better: “He not busy being born is busy dying”
Dr. Les Kertay