Around your 55th birthday, you begin to hear the warning: "Old age is not for sissies." Then, in case you weren't listening, the chorus picks it up and replays it.
It turns out that the statement gets repeated so often because it's true. Old age isn't for sissies. Sissies shouldn't apply.
But what if old age lies ahead and you're not a sissy? Fifty-six still follows 55, and the numbers continue to mount. Not to be avoided, though aging is usually thought preferable to the alternative.
I paid attention to the warning a while ago, and have tried to march into old age standing tall. Now, recently turned 84, an age I doubted I would ever reach, I look at others in my family and marvel at how they did it: my mother, who lived to 90, two aunts who reached 95, and an uncle who recently died at 103. All of them largely lucid to the end. Will I live to their ages? I hope I can do as well if I last so long.
Maybe that warning was exaggerated. Not everything about aging is unwelcome. First, you hear someone calling you "Sir." Surprising, but not bad. Doors start to get opened for you. The apartment building where I live has very heavy doors, two on the ground floor, and one in the elevator. I use a walker and am lucky in having neighbors who step forward and open those doors for me. Lately, I've taken to shamelessly standing on the sidewalk, waiting until someone who looks amenable passes by. I ask the person if he or she would kindly open the outside door to the building. A young person wouldn't dare do that. No refusals so far. I get away with it because, well, I'm old!
Still, there are challenges, one of the hardest being to deal with time. Time becomes no friend, revving up to jet levels when you age. Birthdays occur with scary speed. This year's calendar gets thrown out when it seems as if January just happened. Same for a week, or month. Days seem to rush away from you.
Then there are aches where they never had been, arthritis especially, which pops up anywhere it feels like it (toes, for instance). And a lifestyle once routine becomes exceptional, if it continues at all. Travel, for example: perhaps now scaled down to short, manageable trips. Dating, for example: forget it, and count on a few solid friendships to work as substitutes. Physical exercise: keep it up, but don't expect the same result as 20 years earlier.
Yes, be warned about time. It's more dominant than it used to be, and more elusive. It makes you rearrange expectations, and accept unwelcome changes. What you might have rejected in the past is what you need to accept today, setbacks included.
Some things time cannot steal. It can't strip you of gratitude or the good things that remain to you. Before going to bed, how about reviewing the day that's ending and finding two--at least one--good thing to remember about the day? Maybe it was meeting an old friend, enjoying a good meal, being able to go out on your own, even just seeing the sun.
But keep an eye on that clock. It won't slow down for you.
Stanley Ely writes about aging in "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.