What It's Really Like To Turn 83

Exactly three years ago, my uncle Morris passed away in Dallas at age 103 plus a few months. He never expected to live that long -- does anyone? But he did, and was alert until his very final days.

This happened just as I was giving myself an 80th birthday party in New York, and it threw me for some time into an untried role as the executor of an estate. (He had appointed me to that job without bothering to ask if it was OK with me.)

If he didn't plan to getting past 100, much less 103, I didn't plan on reaching 80, much less 83, which happened this week. If you're the youngest in your family, as I was in mine, aging acquires a new face. You find that this person or that is already 20 years younger than you, and even he isn't young.

When my mother was in her late 80s, she spoke of someone as young, and when I asked the person's age, she said, 50-something. That seemed unlikely to me then, but less so now.

I told a young fellow whom I've recently met that I'd have a birthday coming up the next week, and he asked what year it would be. Twenty years ago I might have fudged, but a privilege of being old -- it is old -- is that you find it's not worth it to lie. So I told him the truth, and he seemed surprised and said I might be somewhere in the 70s. Maybe I should have said I'd be 90.

The gap between me and the young fellow is vast -- he's middle 20s. We're both members of a gay men's book group where I am the oldest person by far, and I don't mind sticking out because I like going to the group. Younger people help shrink some distance. If at the end of the meeting the young friend picks up my chair to return it to the rack, I nod and say thanks.

Uncle Morris appointed me his executor because he looked on me as young, but he wasn't old mentally. He had been a gambler and knew numbers, and once in a while, if we went to a cafeteria for lunch, he would look at our trays and predict the bill by a few cents. A dedicated sports fan, any loss by his hometown team was a hurt. He kept his mind going by remembering the players' numbers and at the World Series, he knew the odds for each team to win, and was usually right. Even past 100.

I have no such skill. The best I can claim is to still walk on my own (slowly) and remember how to spell my name and address. I know that what once worked well may now work less well or not at all. No point in trying to extend some things from the past that aren't meant to be extended.

I'm grateful for a lot of great trips in the past, and in their place, grateful for a comfortable life closer to home today. Priorities change, though I hope I never stop appreciating handsome men.

Every morning I say a prayer of thanks for getting to a new day, this week to a new year. Periodic sadness is allowed, but 83 works fine.

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Stanley Ely writes about aging in his book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.

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