I’ve been having a playful feud with my younger sister about what it really means to get old, not older. She insists thatI should not talk about being “old,” because I’m not and, that I’ve got many years left to enjoy life in retirement. Well, maybe, but here’s where our views conflict. I’ve been “older” all my life, since I was a teenager. I never related well to my peers when I was young. Sure, I played basketball and football in my neighborhood when I was a kid, but I always retreated afterwards into my own little world. I never went out and did things on weekends in high school. I stayed home, worked in my stamp collection, watched TV, mowed lawns and read books.
When I started my newspaper writing career, however, windows and doors opened and my hidden gregariousness came out. I found out I loved interviewing people and writing stories about their lives and work. It was almost like I was another person in my 20s.
But the odd thing is as I look back, I never really thought of myself as any age. I looked in the mirror and saw a young man, but that’s what I always seemed to see. I never seemed to change. So now as I near 70, I don’t feel old, but I can easily admit I am. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and in fact, if it weren’t for Covid now, I’d probably be traveling and doing things I never would have done when I was younger. Physically, as far as energy and mobility, I feel like I did 20 or 30 years ago. Yes, there are the creeping indignities of old age such as rushing to make it to the bathroom; experiencing arthritis like pain in my shoulders and hands, especially first thing in the morning (it could be worse.; Ive been taking turmeric for years); and not bounding up the stairs to my second floor bedroom as I once did not so long ago. I still walk very rapidly just about everywhere, as I have all my life, my appetite is good, and I feel pretty good generally. Being inside so much has caused allergies to flare up, though my sister says it’s all the dust in this house. Okay, so I’m not that great at housekeeping. Once, again, I never have been.
Maybe if I manage to live to 80, old age and death will seem much closer. But they do now anyway, and so since I can’t turn back the hands of time, I accept it and I call my age what it is, and I try to live one day at a time. Getting old is a stone cold, hard fact of life. Why be in denial about it. Instead, embrace it.
Two things that keep me feeling young are my passion for photography and my insatiable curiosity. I read all the time (mostly on the Internet, though I have a huge library of books). I have so many things that interest me, artistically and intellectually, that I can’t even conceive of being bored.
I’ve been retired more than three years. Now I truly know what that unfortunate word means. It means anything but retirement in the literal sense. Maybe you’re not working anymore and you’ve retired from that biggest responsibility and time sucker of your previous life , but retirement in the real sense of the word, is the opportunity at last to re-invent and re-imagine your life with no expectations and pressures to succeed or prove yourself, or desperately look for a job so you won’t end up on the street. It’s really what living is all about since you aren’t compelled to make a living anymore.
I’m not unmindful of what old age can bring with it in addition to wisdom. Suffering and loss become companions, and not just occasional unwanted visitors. But suffering has been no stranger to me as I’ve had to contend with various form of mental illness all my life. I trace it back to when I was 13 years old. This has made me stronger and able to empathize with people more deeply than if I had lived a more charmed and typical life. It is what enabled me to take care of my mother for ten years as she slowly descended into dementia and infirmity. From great suffering comes inner strength and a greater capacity to understand the teachings of the Bible and Christianity. I’m a very flawed Christian, but I won’t give up the race to the finish. My mother certainly didn’t.
So turning 70 next year is more of a psychological milestone rather than a physical one. All the decade birthdays are. But I intend to be prepared, and I intend to keep seeing the humor in the situation whenever I can.
This past weekend, the two college kids I hired to work on my yard and garden were here. They’re very conscientious and good kids, and when they come every two weeks it gives me a chance to actually talk to real, physical people, something I sometimes don’t do for days or weeks at a stretch when quarantining during the pandemic. So the kids are pretty easy to talk to. This past weekend I found myself spinning tales about the past when I used to rake leaves quietly instead of using loud and obnoxious leaf blowers. I briefly reminisced about how I used to get cherry Coles at the drugstore lunch counter when I was a kid. And then I regaled them with some stories about the early days of the Internet and search engines such as Alta Vista and Yahoo, and those ubiquitous AOL CDs for starting Internet service. They actually seemed to be interested and listened politely and asked some questions of their own. I asked them some questions as well. It was more or less a dialog, although I was obviously a bit needier as far as being starved for conversation the previous week. The days can occasionally get not so much long as lonely.
Anyway, when they left I had to laugh because I recalled some of the countless times when I was their age, and even years later, when I would ask a lot of questions of old folks I interviewed for stories at the newspapers I worked on. I always enjoyed it. I didn’t care how much they rambled on. It was interesting. It was oral history in the making. But when I was chatting with the college kids, I had to fight against a little voice in my headed shouting at me in aggravation, “Oh will you just shut up. They don’t want to hear all that.” Well, I can happily say I didn’t pay the little voice any mind. Those young’ uns should be grateful, like I was back in the day!