Agatha Christie said that if you marry an archaeologist, the older you get, the more interesting he will find you.
It’s a little late for me to marry an archaeologist, but a man who still thinks you are beautiful when every law of your universe tells you that you are not, is even better.
Beauty is not in the eyes of every beholder. Many people don’t find anything older than a 2-year old cell phone beautiful. Not everyone likes to wander the ruins of previous ages or gets teary-eyed while looking at a stone circle. There are many who look at the wilds of the arctic and only see places to drill for oil. They look at cities and imagine a bulldozer taking it down to nothing so they can build again.
None of us expects to get old. We might anticipate maturity. A mellowness, perhaps. A few gray hairs, the odd wrinkle that could still be considered a laugh line. None of us expects to get old and tired, full of aches and pains. No one thinks struggling to climb the stairs or even get up from the sofa is something great, to which we all aspire.
A few people will age with few complaints and some lucky ones will continue to have some of the powers of youth. Whenever I see one of these 90+ people who has been waiting his whole life to run a marathon, all I can think is:
Is that “it” for you? Now that you’ve run the distance, what’s next? You going to keep running until your legs crumple under you? If this was your lifelong plan, what waits for you in your future?
I never expected to become ill or too damaged to do the things I’d always managed to do. I was damaged early, but for a long time, I did it — whatever “it” was — anyway. When age and ill-health crept up, I gradually recognized no amount of will or determination was going to make the days of youth return. Age was not a number. Age was a reality and now, a big part of my reality. Age wasn’t going away or even taking a long vacation. But I can live with it. Getting older is not willing yourself to keep doing the same things you did thirty years ago. It’s creatively figuring out what you can do that you will enjoy and will find worth doing.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of that. Arts and crafts and painting and writing and thinking and talking and learning don’t have to disappear.
Dealing with age is not forcing yourself to do the things you did when you were younger. Dealing with age is recognizing what you can’t do and probably should not even try to do … while simultaneously figuring out what you can do. Even when you were more fit, not everything worth doing involved running, strength, speed, or agility. Your brain is part of your body too — and it needs a lot more exercise than you imagine. Even if you can’t remember the name of that person you used to work with — how important is he or she? A lot of the things we forget as we get older weren’t important anyway. For the small stuff, we have lists. Just to be fair, I’ve always needed lists and that included when I was a lot younger!
As for the people whose names we’ve misplaced? Ted Kennedy, famous for his inability to remember names, used to say to everyone: “Hey, it’s YOU!”
Not being a politician I have a different mode: “Excuse me. I’m sorry, I’ve misplaced your name! It’s an old person thing. Could you remind me?”
Surprisingly, it works. Try it. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life looking at people and not knowing who the hell he or she is? Won’t that make you feel stupid? When they give you their name, but you still have no idea who they are … well … maybe they weren’t all that important. I’ve had people give me their names, what we did together in High School, mutual friends … and I still don’t know who they are. That really is embarrassing.
And yet … life goes on. Go figure, right?