It is often said that old age is not for sissies. Although I know quite a few old sissies, I generally agree. Old age is no joke. I firmly believe that if you aged all at once it would absolutely kill you. Of course, you do not: aging is gradual, incremental. Since many of my friends are growing older, I have taken it upon myself to conduct a study of its effects.
Let me start by stating the obvious: the phrase “growing old” is an oxymoron. The young grow older, but the old don’t grow at all — unless you count excrescences, internal and external, and subtle attitudinal changes. There is a fair amount of shrinkage involved, to tell the truth.
For the most part, growing older has no dire implications. Life goes on as normal, aside from a few minor diminutions or disturbances in energy, endurance, coordination, balance, digestion, sleep patterns, cognition, and memory. (They say memory is the second thing to go; I can’t remember the first.)
The changes in attitude vary from person to person but range from grumpiness to giddiness, or sometimes a bewildering mix of both. There is also nostalgia, a beautiful word that means a pronounced yearning for what is termed the “Good Old Days,” although this can mean almost anything. Generally, everything in the past was better, and nothing in the present is any damn good. Decades of racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation, world wars, and nuclear annihilation anxiety are forgotten, but remember when gas was 25 cents a gallon and strawberries still tasted like strawberries?
Other observed changes in aging people: the vertical is pretty good, but getting down and getting up are not. Unattractive noises are often made in these efforts. Knees, in particular, express themselves. Backs complain.
Packaging presents real challenges; shrink wrap is no friend to the aged and prompts calls for the days when items were sold in paper bags (see: Good Old Days).
Irritation often results when the names of movie stars and recording artists are completely unfamiliar. “Who the hell is Kim Kardashian?” a friend of mine once bellowed. (And, I might add: Why?) Even more irritating is the bafflement of technology and the ignominy of asking a teenager for assistance. Another older friend of mine calls my cell phone “a magic lantern.”
Some people report having more doctors than friends, with specialties they never knew existed and a plethora of pills in their medicine cabinets where previously there had been a lone bottle of aspirin.
There is much more. Bicycles that were well functioning now do not work as well as they used to — something involving the gears, perhaps. Stairs seem abruptly steeper. And forget ladders. More often there are familiar faces without names.
“Enjoy your food while you’re young,” an old neighbor once told me; friendly spices and dressings become increasingly hostile to the constitution. And having a couple of drinks at the end of the day can feel like the Corona virus the next morning.
Of course, with all this grousing (another good word: probably the sound old grouse make), inevitably someone will say, “Consider the alternative.” Like most clichés, it is certainly true. Life beats death hands down, at least in most instances. Living longer has its benefits as well as its downside. People are kinder and more helpful, if a bit condescending — unless they are also old, in which case they can be meaner than yellow jackets.
With more past than future — let’s face it squarely — the present seems more precious. Perspective is rewarded. All the bromides for aging gracefully (another curious term) are here on the Outer Cape: a healthful environment, opportunities for exercise at any level (up to pickleball!), and most important: community. No one need be alone here.
From the beach I watch a windsurfer go sailing by. Sigh. One more thing I will never do. I will never get to Tibet or climb Kilimanjaro. But get over it: there is plenty of adventure to be had right here, in milder forms.
My friends are getting older. I guess I am, too. We’ll take this ride together.