Facebook has its uses. I’ve met a variety of people online over the years, and the ones I’ve never met in real life are often the most provocative. After all, the reason we “met” was that one of us somehow provoked the other to think about something in a different way than we had prior to our initial encounter.
On Sunday, one of my Facebook Friends “liked a status” that was rather provocative. The post was about how this person always hated old people and now found himself to be an old man. This triggered a flurry of responses, some reacting to the initial “agist” nature of the post, others commiserating with the oncoming specter of one’s decrepitude and demise. I was tempted to chime in, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to add my two cents to the rather lengthy thread. My philosophy in the case of Facebook comments is “brevity is the soul of wit,” and if I can’t be witty, I might as well blog.
Having cared for two aging parents has forced me to confront my own advancing age for some time now. In January, I turned 54. Depending on your perspective, you might think I’m already ancient (if you’re 5) or just a child (if you’re 85). But the way things have gone in the past year, I’d be inclined to say “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”*
My husband, Bob, had a dear friend, Chris, who was the best man at our wedding in 1991. They had been best friends in high school, stayed in touch through letters when Bob was in the Navy, and continued to be close through young adulthood. I met Chris when he was 27 (and I was 28). He had a dry sense of humor which he lubricated liberally with alcohol and weed. I distinctly remember his 30th birthday party: it was a depraved and drunken debauch that was clearly the last night of his youth. After that event, Chris got old. He never dated. He lived with his mother. He worked as a landscaper (a profession which allowed him to drink on the job). In time, Bob could no longer stand to witness his friend’s slow self-inflicted demise and they parted ways. By the time they reconciled, Chris had terminal cirrhosis. He died at the age of 49, an old and lonely man.
I met my father-in-law when he was 59. At his 60th birthday party, he turned old. He could not bear to recognize the inevitable change of the guard; that his children were succeeding him and were very capable of taking care of themselves and their families. His ego demanded that he retain absolute power as family monarch, which was of course impossible. Gradually, he pushed away everyone who cared about him, turned to drink and died a lonely old man at 74.
My mother is 83. She’s been old for a very long time. I remember her using the expression “I’m too old for…” when she was still in her 40s. Personal growth and introspection were never part of her makeup.
My father was different. He got a second chance at life when he was 56. A double by-pass operation made him reassess his life and priorities. He and my mother began living it up and having fun together. They traveled. They bought a place on the Jersey shore and another in Florida. Dad bought his first computer at 73 (and he was my best student). He often joked about “the golden years” being a “crock of shit,” but continued to grow as a human being, enthusiastically embracing life until he realized he was losing his mind (vascular dementia was at the top of his list of ailments) at 75. Losing him was particularly hard, because he got old so damned fast. His body died at 76.
IT’S NOT NECESSARILY PERMANENT
Last year, after having cared for my mother for several years, much of it hands-on in my own home, I had become old. I had gained weight, gotten tired, sad, depressed and beaten. Each glance at my own reflection was alarming. But I wasn’t done and I decided to take my life back. I lost the weight, got back into shape and made a conscious decision to prioritize my own health and well-being.
Now I sing with a rock band, a country band, have appeared in the news for having had the nerve to promote my little business at a conference for entrepreneurial women and frankly, I feel great. I wake up every morning looking forward to getting things done and moving forward. I’m meeting more people in real life who provoke me, inspire me and engage with me professionally. It’s a very exciting (although admittedly stressful) time.
Is my life perfect? Hell no. Do I look like a model? Ha ha ha. No. But I am NOT old. I am experienced. I am healthy. I am mostly happy. An involved and productive member of my community, I will very likely live a very long time. And I will do everything in my power to keep from getting old. Because “old” is not an “age,” but a state of mind. I will certainly age for the rest of my life, but I refuse to get old. I’ve been there, and it’s not for me.
*From “My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan