It is often said that we should learn to grow old gracefully. Those who do not are sometimes looked on with scorn. Perhaps you may hear that someone should “know better at that age.” What is it that we should know better? Of this, I am not sure. I just know that a lot of people have ideas in the back of their minds of what old should be. For a long time I thought being like my father’s father was the way to be when you are old. I guess that may be in part because I always thought of him as old. Of course 30 seems old to a child, but from his 60’s to his 80’s my grandfather seemed about the same to me. Everything was taken at a slow pace and with good humor and I could not see anything wrong with that, as long as I was not actually old myself.
Except for the eccentric few, society has notions of what you should do, say, wear when you get old. For example, you probably should not shop for your clothes at the Gap or some other shop that pitches all of its advertising at the young. If you do, you may hear that your apparel is not age appropriate. If you can not shop at Neiman Marcus I suppose you should shop at Goodwill or some place that will have stuff for old guys. If you still fit into your high school or college clothes, they may not be correct to wear unless you have irresponsible friends your own age who do the same.
Sports is not a good ideas for old folks either. When you sprain your ankle playing touch football in the park, you may count on someone saying, “He ought to know better at his age.” It will be worse yet if you break something. That will be the point that people will try to find out what kind of help you actually need. If you are past 50, they will no longer pass this off as some sort of midlife crisis. Instead they will wonder if you have reached early senility and should be kept under constant surveillance.
If truth be told, most people approaching the supposed golden years may want to partake of a lot of activities they had to put off while doing that all important action of “growing up.” Work, family and a whole host of post high school, college or military life obligations may mean postponing things you really want to do. A little extra financial security, if there is such a thing in these times, and a little “empty nest” freedom may mean you are ready to go off and live a life you wish you had lived when you were much younger.
Growing old gracefully will not be on my list of things to do. I intend to continue to play loud rock and roll in my car until neighbors think I must have the sound up that loud because I can no longer hear it. Trust me I have never stood in front of a loud-speaker like Pete Townsend blowing my ear drums out, but I nevertheless like to rock and roll down the highway. While I sometimes wish my neighbors would tune it down after midnight, I am not always certain the same applies to me.
There is another important thing to know that may not always appear obvious to the younger set. Giving up on the things that we love to do is a scary idea. It signals that we have turned a corner into the final era of life. No one aside from perhaps the clinically depressed wants to go there. We want our lives to be vital for much longer than practical. This may account for a good deal of the depression that afflicts the elderly. It is the realization that you can not do want you really want to do.
When I see my younger friends going off to do things that seem like the type of thing I would like to do as well, I generally meet these times with a cross between jealousy and sadness. I am jealous that they are doing things I can not, or because they are doing things for which I would not be included because I am not of the same age group. Most my age seem to have family obligations that do not allow the freedom to run off on adventures like I can, so I feel a bit sad to know I have reached the point of being left behind. I hasten to point out, I really could not do everything my younger friends do, but that doesn’t mean I would not secretly like to do them (or not so secretly sometimes).
There is much value in staying as young and vital as possible. You can live a longer and more productive life. When you start turning the corner of fall to meet winter, you will not find it so depressing if you have kept your good health. Instead you will be able to still see adventure ahead. If crossing 40, then 50, then 60 just means the opportunity for new and exciting things, then these will not be milestones to dread. In fact they may hardly be a bump in the road.
Having cultivated friendships in many age groups, I now find that I can be in the company of those who are decades older on one day, and having fun with those who are much younger the next. While a chronic condition has slowed me down a bit, it has not knocked me down at all. If it does, I at least know some younger guys who can pick me up. My contemporaries may have to let me lie on the ground a while until they can think of whom to call to get me picked up. Therefore, we need to keep the young and strong nearby, if not indeed with us, at all times. If someone, someday says I have not learned how to grow old gracefully, I think I will take it as a complement.