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Let’s begin with a cliche: Age is simply a number. Or another: You’re only as old as you feel.
Or, as Mitch Albom suggested in his quirky The Time Keeper: If we didn’t measure time, would we know that it was passing?
Those are thoughts at the top of my quickly crowding cranium because I recently had one of those landmark birthdays that give us pause and has us studying the mirror and dreading the horizon – and chanting it’s only a number, it’s only a number.
Thankfully, my family and friends have been gentle about this issue, because I admit my age vanity is showing. It’s embarrassing and surprising, but it is there. I try to hide it under some internal pillow, but it slips out and smacks me up side of the head, to get my attention and remind me that it won’t be going away. Or if it does….
I don’t want to be the age I’ve reached because I don’t feel that I’m there.
You probably understand that. Maybe you just turned 21 or 30 and think you’ve crested some lost ridge of life. Let me assure you that you have no idea how high that mountain truly is.
Yet I think about how I feel, that I am blessed to have good health, that my waist hasn’t expanded in years (well, not measurably), that there is a reasonable amount of hair, that everything still works like it’s supposed to even if not as well as it once did. I can still run 5 miles when I get the opportunity (and I never was fast at that), and I’m no worse a golfer than I was 30 years ago. Yes, my memory plays tricks in the near term, and my eyes aren’t as sharp.
But it’s the other stuff that makes me understand that I’m ripening to the point of decline.
I never would have been considered hip or cool, but I seem to have lost a lot of social and cultural awareness, crowded out of my life by changing perspectives and responsibilities. I once could carry on a conversation about a lot of topics and hide my deeper ignorance, but lately I feel like my ignorance is deepening.
Take pop culture, for example. I was always open to grasping pieces of music that I liked, no matter the genre or artist. Now, I have no idea who the biggest musical stars are, much less what they perform. I’ll hear people discussing an actor or entertainer, and I have no idea who that person is.
It’s as if I’ve skipped an entire growth spurt of knowledge because I simply quit paying attention, and that makes me feel disassociated. My daughter talks of going to concerts to watch bands whose names are as foreign to me as the prime minister of Greenland (if it even has a prime minister).
And then there’s my, uh, perspective on things.
My wife at times suggests that I can be crotchety, a descriptor, of course, that I consider old. I recoil and regroup and try to ascertain if she is in fact accurate, and sometimes, I think she is.
Just the other day, I was sitting in a traffic backup, one that could have been dangerous to those behind me, when I realized the driver in front was texting or something and not understanding that she needed to move forward so those in positions of peril could escape the traffic lane.
So I tooted my horn and motioned for her to move forward.
She looked in her mirror and gave me a certain motion, too, a gesture I’ve always found repugnant and immature and never considered anything remotely funny else since I once saw an older cousin who was driving me to a game salute a friend at a stoplight. I was about 10 then.
At this age, that really got me fired up, but then she added fuel to that fire, literally. She flicked a cigarette out the window and onto our publically owned and shared pavement.
Nothing makes me feel more, well, crotchety, than someone who flicks the refuse of their suicidal habits onto the public pathways. It’s not just the littering, but it’s the plain disdain for the space we share, as if that person is sole owner (sort of like those who often fling cups, boxes and wrappers onto the grass in front of our homes).
My immediate response is always the same: Grow up and grasp responsibility for your own trash. I realize those lessons have to be taught and learned, but, come on. Yes, I was crotchety.
I’m sure my annoyance only will increase as I, uh, age. I can’t imagine how I would react to seeing such flippancy when I reach my next milestone birthday. Or maybe I will become too old to care. I guess that will be a learning experience for me.
And learning I will continue, because I don’t have a bucket list or even bucket. I don’t have time for that. Those birthdays will keep coming, and my growing will continue to be befuddling. And I will have to learn to live with that new number.
My colleague Ron Van Stockum, the retired Marine general who is a marvelous and exemplary 97 years old, has told me he plans to break his mother’s record as being the oldest recorded Shelby Countian when she died at 110.
My response to Van: You break that record, and I’ll break yours. Bring ‘em on.