Getting Older, Sliding into Getting Old

I’ve come to that point in my life where I can no longer fool myself, or anyone else for that matter. Actually, I probably haven’t been fooling anyone else for 15 to 20 years. I’m not just “getting older” anymore. I am just plain “old”. It was probably in my late 40s that I first admitted to “getting older”. Maybe I wasn’t as young as I used to be, but I wasn’t “old” yet. Grandparents were old. My parents were old. But I didn’t look or act like them. And I was a Baby Boomer. So I couldn’t possibly be old yet.

But I’ve just turned 65. There’s no denying it any more. I’m not just “getting older,” I’m old. Sure, literally speaking I’m still getting older. I mean, I guess we are getting older our whole lives. We get older from the moment that we’re born. And we continue getting older until we die.

“Getting older” is just a stage of life, like childhood or adolescence or middle-age. There’s a certain state of mind that comes with “getting older”. It’s “I’m not as young as I used to be, my body may be slowing down, but at least I’m not ‘old’ yet”. As kids, we are “growing up”. We grow bigger and taller. We learn new things and develop mentally. In our late teen years and early 20’s, we are “maturing”. Our bodies and minds continue to get stronger and we continue to develop. Then, in our mid- to late-20s, through our 30s, and into our early 40s, we kind of hit a plateau. At some point by our mid-30s, our bodies do start to show signs of getting older. Our skin starts to sag and we start to develop wrinkles. Some of us start to get gray hair. Others of us start to lose their hair. But we are still, as they say, “in the prime of our lives”.

By the time we hit our mid-40s, it’s apparent that we are on that downward slide. Mentally we still feel sharp, until we read one of those studies that say how so many scientific and artistic breakthroughs are made by people in their 20s. For men, we start seeing athletes that we watched through their whole careers retire. “Wow, he can’t be retiring. I remember him when he was just got out of college.” For me, I suddenly realized that I was “getting older” when the doctors and dentists were younger than me. I had gray hair and I was gaining weight. And I couldn’t ignore the fact that I couldn’t perform at the same level in sports anymore. I was definitely “getting older”.

But still, the slide was gradual. And I could still fool myself that I could fight the aging process. When I was 40, I saw the eye doctor. He took some basic information from me. After I told him my birthdate he said, “Well, I see that you’ve turned 40. You’re going to need bifocals.” I asked him if he wanted to check my eyes first. He condescendingly agreed, and it turned out that I didn’t need bifocals. See, I could fight the aging process.

But the evidence of aging continued to mount. Steve, a slightly older friend told me that 42 was the watershed age. “Before you turn 42, if you hurt something, it gets better. But after 42, if you hurt something, it never gets better.” Another friend, Vik, was from India. He supported the premise that 42 was when things went bad. He said that in India bifocals are called “42’s”, because that’s the age you are when you get them.

Sure enough, as I aged through my 40’s, my body didn’t always seem to heal. I managed to hold off on bifocals until I was 43 or 44. And I was able to pretty much control my weight, and stay in fairly good shape. I continued to play volleyball, swim, and coach youth sports.

The truth was catching up to me though. I was playing sports with the same friends. Since we were all aging together, it wasn’t real apparent how much we were slowing down. When I was in my late-50’s, I hurt my knee playing volleyball and needed arthroscopic surgery. When I went in for the surgery, the nurse measured my height. I told her 5’ 10 ½”. She measured and said, “Nope. 5’ 9 ½”. You lose an inch a decade after turning 50.” Oops, indisputable proof of aging and deterioration.

So, now I’m 65 and I’m in the “old” stage of life. But, I carry on. I’m still out playing sports with my “old” friends and some younger but still “getting older” friends. On the volleyball court we joke about missed plays, boasting “You know, 10 years ago I would have made that play.” On the baseball field, our coach reminds the outfielders to “move in, nobody can hit it that far anymore. And even if they do, nobody can run farther than 2nd base.”

And I’m working hard on not becoming an old fuddy-duddy, another symptom of being “old”. When I was still in my early-40s and just beginning to be “getting older”, I was still listening to the same music, the same groups, the same albums, that I had listened to growing up. I starting hearing myself complaining about music that the “kids” were listening to – “How can you listen to that crap? It’s just noise.” And I just didn’t “understand these kids these days” and the way they wore their clothes, with their butts hanging out showing everyone their underwear. I was resisting all types changes. I was even resistant to new technologies. A surprise for someone in the computer industry. I could almost feel my brain calcifying and stiffening. I wasn’t going to become an “old fogey”. I made a conscious decision to break out of my rut. I decided to make a conscious effort listen to new music, read new authors, try new foods, go back to school. Just be more open to new things.

And so far, it seems to be working. I may not like or understand all the new music, literature, or fashions, but I try not to be judgemental. After all, we Baby Boomers had plenty of our own new ideas.

So, I’m “old”. Okay. And it’s not all bad. I’m retired and I have the chance to do new things. My wife and I travel, I’ve taken up writing, I have more time to spend on photography, and I have the time to take classes and workshops. And, I have a built-in excuse for getting out of some bigger chores, like mowing the lawn, snow shoveling, or painting the house.

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