Am I getting old? Yes. Everyone is. Every day. (And that is two words, people, unless you are using it as an adjective. Sheesh). Getting old is actually cause for celebration at some points in life: old enough to drive, old enough to drink (something I tapped my foot for throughout high school); old enough to vote… But what is just plain old? We know what older is, simply more time spent on earth than yesterday — or than someone else. But when do we get old? How do we know? And is it that something to avoid at all costs? (Advertisers certainly seem to think there is something we can do about it).
I’m just starting to think I might be old, to some folks anyway, and I am trying to reconcile it with my own self-identification. One thing I’ve noticed that makes me feel old is the Los Angeles Times obituaries. Now, I’m not usually one to read these things, but the way they are placed in the “California” section, one sort of is in the midst of them before one even knows what happened. (Like growing old). So back in the day –as my students write, when really they are referencing a particular historical era, which of course makes me crazy — if I ever glanced at an obit, the birthdates were so far back in the past I wondered to myself how some of those people held on as long as they did. Now, of course, the section is brimming with names and it is heartbreaking. There was a piece in the Times earlier this week that noted a trend in obituaries; it is that family members are using them as a platform to warn about the dangers of COVID. Whether their own loved one had not believed in the virus’ strength, or just because there is a whole anti-masker movement afoot (I mean, really?!), these people have started writing brief biographies of their deceased relatives, followed by warnings to the public that they are on the same trajectory if they don’t choose to take precautions during this pandemic. So I look at the photos, and then the names. And then the dates. And guess what? A whole bunch of people born not all that long before me have been dying. And not only from COVID. I have come to realize that I am on the brink of belonging to an age group that has people dying at a regular clip. When, may I ask, did that happen?!
Yet another reason I think I might just be old is because I have started watching (some would say bingeing but I find that word repulsive) the 2015 Netflix series, Grace and Frankie. It stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, with a host of other excellent actors. But I rationalize. I think I like it because I think I relate to some of the things these two women are experiencing as Senior Citizens. Not me yet, but it all looks so familiar — or at least nearby. The underestimating and overlooking by others towards them pierces my heart. And the way their bodies don’t always cooperate with their minds, well I relate to that a little bit already. And so the question becomes, for me, is this a problem, me maybe getting old? Can anything that is inevitable really be a problem? I think not, as problems can be eradicated with solutions and there is no solution to growing old, save that of dying, which is an alternative more than a solution.
I definitely am feeling more mortal these days — even before I saw way too many people my age on ventilators, and lost acquaintances not any older than I. I don’t jaywalk the way I used to, for one thing. I was hit (really, bumped) by a car a little while back and deftly hopped onto the hood so as not to end up under its tires. I’m not sure I’ll have that in me should it happen again. I also find myself unconsciously keeping my tennis playing to twice or three times a week, max. (Yes, poor me in Southern California having to turn down outdoor tennis plans in December, right)?! But when I play more often than that my body feels like it might have ended up under that aforementioned car after all. I used to pity and sneer at people who turned down tennis — ever, who wanted to rest. Now I am that person. And so I sneer at myself sometimes.
I stopped ordering pasta with red sauce a long time ago because it gives me heart burn. Who gets heart burn? Old people! And I always have to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. (Sorry if that’s TMI but I am trying to support my thesis here). I take more vitamins than I used to, and purchase skin cream made specifically for old people. Hyaluronic acid ain’t marketed to the kids, my friends. My skin moves separately from my musculature now, and I have taken to wearing SPF 30 at all times. (Though this is probably too little too late). I could go on, but that’s what old people do, so I’ll stop with the list.
Here’s the thing, I am practicing the embracing of elderliness, of the journey on the path to senior age and beyond. Because with all those above complaints, there are also a few things I happen to love about being older than I used to be. For one thing, as I believe I have mentioned before, once you’ve gone through a number of decades of life, you’ve probably gone through some things that put even dire situations in perspective. We are in the middle of something horrific right — in so many ways — and I have never been party to a pandemic, BUT I have been scared, isolated, angry and confused about all sorts of things in my life. Many, many times. So there is something familiar to me in all of this. It’s not my first rodeo.
And the big prize? Grace and wisdom. Offered up to people at a certain age, if we choose to accept it. I’ll take as much as I can get of it, myself, because it helps me to see goodness and beauty amidst the barrage of evil and sorrow. I know others can see the same, and they are almost always of a certain age. Faith and spirituality play a role in this perspective, to be sure, but those are practices. Being older is simply being. And I am glad to be right now. To be healthy, loved, and excited for what’s next. That’s a lot. So go ahead, age, do your thing (because that’s what age does anyway) and I’ll embrace you. For the most part.
Vive la grand âge!* And Happy Yet-Another New Year!
*Translation: Long live the big age. I love those French people.