On Aging

I posted on September 1, 2009 a somewhat whimsical piece titled “Getting Old is Not For Sissies”.  Read it again if you like, but a short summary is that I was whinning about the things I could do in my youth that are now far out of reach, and the subtle, and not so subtle, changes in the landscape of my body.  Every thing I said then, I double down on now, three years later…and more.  No, I’m not going to give you an itemized list of the things that are going awhack in my physiology, but I will tell you that the pace is accelerating.  I know there’s a word in the English language that means “to accelerate at an accelerating pace”, but like many other things, I can’t remember it.   With respect to the functioning and non-functionioning of my body it’s the reverse.  My body’s ability to deal with the normal physical demands of life are decelerating at an accelerating pace.  Oops, I guess I’ve mixed metaphors, but you understand what I mean.  I don’t want to tend towards fatalism, but I suppose that at some point one’s personal speedometer slams into zero and the lights go out.  I think I prefer that, however, to an asymptotic line which continues to approach, but never reaches, zero.  I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time just in sight of the finish line, but overly dawdle on getting there.

But I digress.  I wanted to spend a moment on another aspect of aging that becomes more clear to me as time passes.  No it’s not about loss of short term memory.  We all understand that.  It’s about how we think about things once we start playing late in the fourth quarter.  It’s about our view of how we fit in to it all, and it’s all about what’s important in the end.  Winston Churchill famously opined that if you, show me a young conservative, I will show you a man with no heart, but if, on the other hand you show me an old liberal, I will show you a man with no brain.  I think he got it half right.  Certainly the center of my emotional and intellectual life, as a young man, was no where near my heart.  There was one thing that mattered to me as a young man, and that was me and what would satisfy me and only me.  I was, as the bard famously wrote, “…climbing young ambitions ladder”.

In our most recent presidential kerfuffle, there was much ado made over Paul Ryan’s adoration of Ayn Rand and her magnum opus The Fountainhead.  I, unlike many purported progressives, got it.  For I, too, once fancied myself as a coming Howard Roark.  You know the schtick…Only the best shall survive.  Rugged individualism.  To the winners go the spoils.  A meritocracy begets the best democracy.  If one works hard enough, long enough and smart enough, one will surely arrive at the top of the heap…  So Winnie was at least half right, I was a young conservative and very little, if any, of my behavior was guided by my heart.    No soppy eyed liberalism for me.  Suffice it to say, that empathy wasn’t my long suit.  If I’d been forced to state succinctly my personal philosophy it would have included the notion that everyone pretty much deserves what they get, or maybe better said, they get what they earn.  I dunno where this came from as I certainly could not have been accused of having been born on the inside track.  So I got it backwards.  Rather than a liberal in my youth and a conservative in my dotage, I’ve done the opposite.

At some point in the midst of my business career I, along with a group of fellow executives and spouses, attended a lecture on the topic of development of human potential.  Yes, I know.  I didn’t want to be there either.  It was a pop psychology kind of personal cheerleading session.  I remember naught except for one statement he made.  He was speaking to us as couples when he said that the females would become more masculine as they aged whereas, we males would develop more feminine behaviors as we approached our end game.  My first thought was, oh no, my wife would, at some point, start to grow one of those little mustaches that adorned the upper lip of the babushkas that guard the door of every Russian public building.  Yikes!  Of course, I dismissed the idea, never giving another thought to this bit of pop psychology/physiology.

Now, in the fullness of time, I understand that there is more than a modicum of truth in what he said.  No, S. does not have a mustache, nor have I started to use mascara, but we both have changed, and I think for the better.  I’ll not even attempt to speak for her, but  as for me,  I plead guilty to a certain wetness around my eyes any time I hug one of my grandchildren. I no longer have to win every argument with my darling wife (she may contest this), and I am willing to look for the good in those who I would have earlier disdained.  I tend to think more about giving and less about getting.  There is less black and white in my thinking about the affairs of man, and consequently, situational ethics makes more sense to me now.   I’m  pretty sure there is more than one way to get to the goal line or to live ones life.  I believe that contributing to a social safety net for those in need is not only a responsibility, but is a moral imperative even if they may not “deserve” it.  Watching even the sappiest of movies is liable to provoke a need to blink back some tears.  I’ve developed an appreciation for the cosmos and a curiosity about how man may fit in.  I enjoy weeding the garden and harvesting its produce.  I look forward to the first wildflower of spring.  I’ve grown to abhor violence in all of it’s manifestations.  I now am willing to accept that I’m not always right.  I’m willing to trust my instincts about people.  I am no longer judgmental about how others live and love.  And perhaps, best of all, I care far less about what people may think about how I live my own life.

I don’t agree with George Bernard Shaw that “youth is wasted on the young”.  But it’s pretty clear that being young is different from being old(er).  As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “what is past is prologue”.  Or as my old pal Ed H. said after having missed an eighteen  inch putt in his eighty second year, “hell, I’m just glad to be still on this side of the grass”.  Conservative or liberal, young or old, soft or hard, feminine or masculine,  I’ll continue to cherish the process of becoming the man I’m going to be.

 

 

 

 

Getting Old Is Not For Sissies

A friend of mine once said when he got old he was going to sit on his back porch, drink beer and throw beer cans at buzzards. I’m not sure that I’ll still have the energy for that.

As Ed H. said just having missed a three foot putt at age 83, “I’m just glad to still be on this side of the grass.  He died three months later.  Don’t worry, this is not about the inevitability of death.  It’s worse.  I’m going to write about what happens to a man-child as he enters the autumn of his life.

This may not seem like such a big deal to the feminine segment of my limited audience, unless, that is, you happen to be married to one of us that is going through this particular slice of life, and groaning all the while.  But to me, it’s a pretty big deal.  I can still remember throwing a ball to home plate from center field on one bounce.  I revel in the memory (now much enhanced) of jumping high enough to grab the rim of the basketball goal.  And now.  Now it takes about thirty seconds and substantial effort to get back on my feet after getting on my hands and knees to insert a DVD into the player.

So what symptoms did the patient present with, asked the Doctor of Life.  Well the patient said, “some things that are supposed to be big have gotten small, and some things that are small have gotten big, and some things just don’t work at all”.  The DOL squinched his eyes and frowned while rubbing his chin looking puzzled.  “You’re going to have to tell me more.”

“Let me give you just one example” the patient explained.  “When I was nineteen and in college, my room mate and I used to swap clothes.  We were both perfect fits…28” waist, 38” chest, 14 1/2 neck and 32” sleeve.  We wore medium pullovers, 9B shoes and 7 1/8 caps.”  “What’s wrong with that” the DOL impatiently inquired.”  “Nothing at all, if it had stayed that way, but now my waist size is what my chest used to be, my chest has shrunk, my neck is so big I can barely get a tie around it.  I couldn’t even get one arm in a medium anything, the last shoes I bought were 10D’s, and my head has expanded so much so that I now can only wear a 7 5/8 or larger”.

The DOL responded impatiently that it was normal for the shape of the body to change as one aged.  “Maybe you have a point there, doc, but what about the other stuff?”  “Whaddya mean, the DOL demanded?”  “It’s the innards, I think.  I used to be able to watch a whole baseball game and drink a six pack without needing to use the biffy.  Now I’ve had to give up beer entirely, and if I make it an hour before hot footing it to the john, I’m lucky.”  The DOL shrugged and said, “that’s just your prostate”.  “I know that.  I even know that its size determines a lot of other stuff that goes on down there, but the problem is…..mine used to be the size of an acorn and now, I’d reckon, it’s about like an avocado, and it plays holy hell with my plumbing.”  “OK, you’ve I get your point, but do you have any examples of things that used to be big that’ve shrunk?”  “Whoa, I’m not going there doc, this is a G rated blog after all, but come to think of it, I do have another example.” “Memory, my memory has shrunk…no doubt about it.”  “I used to be able to give you the winner of every World Series from 1950 on, and now I can’t remember who’s playing in this year’s series even though I watched it last night.  Three out of five times I can’t remember all my grandkids names, the restaurant I ate in last week is a nameless blur, and I have to write down the space number if I park anywhere other than my own garage.

“Well, memory loss, particularly short term memory loss, is another physiological phenomena of aging in humans,” the DOL intoned pedantically. Tell me something new, I thought.  This guy is a dud, and he’s supposed to be the smart dude with all the answers.  What can he be?  45, 50, maybe 55 tops.  How can he know anything at that age?

I was starting to feel pretty good about this aging thing in spite of the prodding I got from the DOL until I ran across an article in the NY Times which opined that people born in western civilizations, and I guess Texas fits that description, will now experience four stages of life rather than the traditional child, adult, old age schema.  Henceforth we must prepare for five stage:  childhood, adult, old age, and old, old age.  Can you imagine.  If I have this many aches and pains in what I consider to be somewhere between adult and old age, what will old, old age have in stock for me.

I guess that’s better than one traditional description I found of the stages of a woman’s life…..virgin maiden, loyal wife, mother, crone, grieving widow.  It seems to me that this moves too fast from the crone stage to the grieving widow stage.  What happened to the old man in this case?  And I’m not sure of the dividing line between mother and crone.  Come to think of it I’m not sure I want to know.

As for me, I’m going to go with the “ages of man” devised by Oguz (pronounced Ohzz) Khan, the founder of what is present day Turkmenistan.

Childhood……………………………0-13

Adolescence…………………………13-25

Youth……………………………………25-37

Maturity…………………………………37-49

Age of the Prophet…………………46-62

Age of Inspiration…………………..62-73

White-bearded Elder…………….73-85

Old Age………………………………..85-97

Age of Oguz Khan……………….97-109

I might add that at the age of 97 my new hero Oguz was still adding new brides to his collection.  That’s probably not in the cards for me, but I rather like the sound of Age of Inspiration and even White-bearded elder.

I agree with my friend Ed, this side of the grass is really pretty good after all, despite the aches and pains and diminished capacity….. particularly considering the alternative.