Not too long ago I stood in a line at a grocery store with two men who were old and tall like me.
I was captivated by the scene and found myself reacting out loud, in a spirit of goodwill and levity, with: “Wow, it looks like National Old Tall People’s Day.” One of the men smiled and the other, as though he had just chugged a gallon of lemon juice, managed to say: “Yeah, if you want to call yourself old.” And being one who is tickled pink (picture that in a man the color of coffee without cream) to be old I had nothing else to say.
But I think I know where that old dude was coming from. He’s part of the “You’re only as old as you feel” school. And I have no argument with that. Hey, other than a creak or two and muscles that will never be able to do the things they used to do, “I,” like James Brown use to groove it, “feel good!” But I feel 73. Because that’s the age I happen to be and I guess I’m saying: old is not synonymous with decrepit to me.
And the few dinks that mess with me here and there on my old frame were born at earlier stages of my “feeling my age,” back to those days of: diving for loose balls on the basketball floor; making out in the back of my mother’s chevrolet, twisted into positions that would qualify me for Cirque du Soleil; performing stupid stunts like jumping off the roof of my house on a double dare and wondering for a few days if I was to look like an accordion for the rest of my life.
Man, what times, but I’ll take being my age today over all that wonderful madness any day. I feel that all the gray in my hair and in my beard is my reward for lasting all these years. And I get to ride the bus for a buck twenty-five and I go to national parks for free. My admission at the movie house beats the matinee rate. I absolutely dig senior citizenry. Joining such a category is such an honor to me – a place in society’s hierarchy wherein one has experienced enough deja vu to realize he or she really does know a thing or two.
Again, though, I understand that “young at heart” attitude that my friend in the grocery line was trying to exude. I could look at him and see, based on how tall and strong he stood that he was keeping on keeping on, albeit with wee elements of Ebenezer Scrooge. I sensed that maintaining good health was huge in his mission to not refer to himself as old. He seemed to be keeping it real, as they say today, by actively living “young” as opposed to getting that kind of rush through, say, dying one’s hair as black as a moonless midnight sky or people rhytidectomizing their faces back to how they once looked earlier in their lives as though such things don’t belie that they’re 85.
Oh, well, I don’t know, I guess I’m so okay with the idea of old age because I’ve never liked the sound of dying young. I’ve dreamed of living to a ripe old age and I’ve always understood that fulfilling such dreams comes with no guarantees so I’ve tried to influence my desires by: walking many miles a week, at a smooth and easy fast pace; popping in a Prince or Santana CD and moving to it, sometimes while watching a muted game on TV, “getting down” as my culture has dictated to me; strolling to the market rather than driving when all I want is an item or two of groceries; eating sensibly, trying to cut down on sweets which hasn’t come easy to me; maintaining a sense of play; finding a lot of reasons to laugh each day.
Being the generation before the baby boomers I’m often fascinated by their accomplishments and forward thinking attitudes. But more and more I hear of them looking at old age as something passe and I can only wonder why anyone would ever want to eliminate a life stage?
In a world where wisdom seems to be tossed aside like dirty water in a mop bucket, someone needs to step forward and make a plea for sanity. And who should be better for the job than the elderly, the old and the wise? With that comes a responsibility to act as sages. But can we do that if we try to hide or disguise our ages?
Who knows? I do know, however, that if I feel tomorrow like I feel today, being 73 will continue to suit me just fine.