Growing Old Ungracefully


In the often-revived Broadway musical "Pippin," the mother of Charlemagne says to her grandson, "I believe if I refuse to grow old, I can stay young till I die."

I'm closing in on 62 in just a few weeks. Experts say you choose an age where your values reside. For me, that age is about 35. It was a time when my career was in full swing, I had recently divorced and I missed living with my daughter. So, why the bookmark?

It was a pivotal point between youth and middle age, long before people started saying things like "60 is the new 40." I had the rare opportunity to reflect on where I had been and the excitement of uncertainty as to where I was going.

Gerontologist Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who interviewed thousands of seniors, said, "Flexibility often trumps rigidity. Older people said very surprising things about being old. One of those things was that old age was a quest for adventure and a time to try new things. Many older people describe themselves as feeling freer or clearer."

Preachers say, "the truth shall set ye free." I say, "life cycles set you free, both positive and negative." When you look to see how -- and if -- you've grown over the years (as opposed to maturing), you refer to parental influences being a factor, but they serve merely as a guide. The decisions you made were solely yours.

I happened to be freed by child loss. It put things in perspective and while doors were ripped from their hinges, it opened me up to the idea that I can do whatever I want.

I still get excited when I pour myself a martini, because that's what "grownups" do. Maybe because my mother rode the roller coasters at Universal until she was 80, I try and plan a yearly trip to Orlando. My Dad played tennis well into his mid 60's, and yesterday, I hiked a mountain. I got a new puppy to replace the one I lost and I hide under the bathroom sink hoping to either surprise him or scare the hell out of him. In the old days, people were supposed to be more sedate, but it was a 96-year-old George Bernard Shaw who said "youth is wasted on the young."

I'd like to believe it was a revelation and joyous quote, and not one of a wistful philosopher who mourned his own youth.

Some people forget they were young at a time in their lives. We often wondered about a high school teacher-turned ogre, asking ourselves, "Did they forget they were once a kid?"
Some people say having grandchildren makes you young. I don't have any, but I'd argue it's attitude that makes you young. Reaching back to Pillemer's notion that it's flexibility that determines how you see life and advancing years, I'd have to agree.

If you asked me how old I am, I'd grab that old acorn and say "you're as young as you feel." Well, 35 is an age I've set in Jell-o. I'd hope as I get older, the scale will slide just a few years either way. Never regretting, always recalling and salivating with anticipation the years that lie ahead.