I dunno why, but I’d long dreaded the day, August 10, 2013 when I was to become seventy and officially old. I had long ago overcome the ignominy of taking the two dollar senior citizen discount at the movie theatre, and the snide, “…for a man of your age” that I was starting to get far too frequently. I’d even avoided taking a punch at the sales clerks who had begun to refer to me patronizingly as “young man” or, worse yet, “young fellow”. I had also begun to say with weak, gallows humor that, “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore” as a way of signaling that my time was growing ever shorter. But seventy, the proverbial three score and ten…btw, of course, you know that this statement of expected life span comes from the Psalm 90:10. “The days of our lives are three score and ten…”. So that makes it official I guess. I’m now playing with house money.
So in the days since the seminal event, I’ve felt compelled to act old, to think old, in essence, to be my age. Much of what is required to act old comes naturally. As the man says, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:40-43). (I promise that this will be my last biblical citation). I think the author was referring to morality, but it certainly applies to the myriad of aches and pains that man endures as the body ages. In my mind, I have the same abilities as at eighteen, but it’s imminently clear that I’ll never grab the rim of the basket again unless standing on a step ladder. I will never strain with a forward lean at the finish of a hundred yard dash. All of this comes with the turf. But, drat it all, I don’t think I can do it. Be old, that is. Yes, I know, I will continue to age, and assorted body parts will continue to malfunction until they cease operating all together. I’ll be damned, if I’m gonna start thinking and acting like the old man that I, in reality, am.
The famous naturalist John Burroughs said it best, and I couldn’t agree more:, “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, all the friends I want to see“. He was still writing his elegant essays on nature when he approached his last days at age eighty-four. But we should all heed the caution cited by Andy Rooney as well, who only recently died at age ninety-two, that “…life is like a role of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” I would add, “until it’s gone before you’re ready”. The lesson I take from this is an important one for those of us of have reached the point of diminishing returns…do it now. What ever it is that remains to be done, whatever itch it is that you have yet to scratch…do it now.
I’ve never been one to lean on the bible for solace (for reasons that I will explain in a future blog), but if my full measure is a mere three score and ten, then, by golly, I am, indeed, playing with house money. I can do anything I want. Eat more red meat, go for the second martini, an extra scoop of Ben and Jerry’s can’t hurt me, go ahead and fire up a stoogie when the time beckons. You get the drift. But then there’s that toilet paper end of roll thing that Rooney talked about. I guess I ought to include a few do-it-now things as well. I should hold my dear wife even closer, tell my kids how much I love them, hug the grandkids until they’re too old for it and then keep on hugging. I should spend more time with my friends and tell them how much they’ve meant to me. I should smell the honeysuckle, appreciate the beauty of the Blue Jays in the oak tree, enjoy the songs of the mockingbirds in the morning. Think good thoughts. Make a difference each day. Laugh a lot. I should watch every sunset and anxiously await the next sunrise.
Heinrich Zschokke (who only made it to a paltry seventy-seven) found the right words to express what I feel. “On my seventieth birthday I felt as if I were standing on a mountain height at whose feet the ocean of eternity was audibly rushing; while before me, life with its deserts and flower gardens, its sunny days and stormy nights, spread out green and beautiful (before me).”
Bernard Baruch, who lived and prospered until the ripe old age of ninety-five, expressed succinctly what all of us beyond medicare age feel. “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.” If you subscribe to that definition as I have come to, we will never really reach old age. And I’m going to act like it, too.