I may be making more of this than I should. It’s probably nothing, but there it remains, a trivial thought, a burrowing disquiet that gnaws at me in unlikely moments. I suspect the concern is as common as a runny nose in kindergarten.
I worry about getting old. There, I said it. And in a public forum.
Before I mislead you, let me start by admitting to the obvious: I am already old, in my seventh decade of existence. My grandchildren consider me prehistoric and my children ask me for advice, at long last recognizing my wisdom. I take senior citizen discounts wherever and whenever they’re offered and in the not too distant future I can draw Social Security early, if I need to.
So, the reality is that I’m concerned not about getting old but about getting older.
This apprehension is relatively new to me, and I blame it on my dog and my father. Seriously. Because of them, I have a front row seat to how aging pillages our minds and bodies. I often joke to my husband that the other two residents of our household are racing toward a finish line that no one wants to cross, at least not for a while.
I’ve reported enough stories to know that people age at different rates, that with maturity comes confidence, that my generation of baby boomers is marching into the last third of our lifetimes with characteristic vigor. But it’s hard to ignore the pain in my hip. Or the difficulty of hearing a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Or the need to stretch my legs after two hours in the car. Or my inability to sleep through the night without a visit to a bathroom. Or the necessity of light, lots of it, when I read or write or, really, pretty much do anything.
Some mornings when I look at the reflection in the mirror, I’m astounded by what’s happened. Yes, it’s me, with all the comfort of the familiar, but something else too; something deep and hard-earned. My mug reminds me of my twin granddaughters’ fourth grade math book, that chapter on lines and rays and other geometric shapes. Come to think of it, though, it’s a wonder that skin is so malleable, bones so sturdy.
The physical changes of growing old are to be expected, of course. I know I’ve slowed down. I can still skip a mean jump rope and hula hoop in a pinch, climb several flights of stairs without getting winded. But the endurance, the long and unremitting hours — ah, not so much. I get tired faster and with less warning.
There’s been a corresponding adjustment in attitude too. I strive for more peace and quiet, less excitement. I don’t care if someone sees me in pajamas or without makeup. I am appreciative of what I have and stay away from those who don’t know gratitude. Before getting into a fight, particularly when it involves family, I step back and ask if it’s better to be forgiving than right. My happiest days are when I have a few hours of uninterrupted writing, time with my granddaughters, and a good laugh with friends.
And yet … yet I worry about how my body will react, if my mind will stay true and clear, if and when my health will betray me. More than that: I want to stay in my own home, run my own finances, make my own decisions. In short, I don’t want to be a burden to my children, even as I wish them close, even as I seek to stay relevant in their lives. However, I’m well aware, from personal experience and friends’ anecdotes, that what we aspire to in our 60s isn’t what we need in our 80s. Where and how we end up is not always what we envisioned.
So maybe, when all is said and done, in spite of the marshaling together of prudence and resources, it occurs to me that we still fret about the one thing we wanted most in adolescence: Independence. Is that, I wonder, what the sages mean by life coming full circle?