I may be making more of this than I should. It’s probably nothing, but there it remains, a burrowing fear that gnaws at me in unlikely moments. I suspect the concern is common amongst people in my age demographic.
I worry about getting old.
Before I mislead you, let me start by admitting to the obvious: if not old by many people’s standards, I am at least not considered young anymore. People call me ma’am instead of miss. Getting asked for ID at my annual visit to the liquor store is a thing of the past. My kids consider me prehistoric, and younger people I work with ask me for advice, a token sign of getting old. I have had to start worrying about pensions and wills, and my birthdate is buried way up in the 70s in all the on-line drop-down menu.
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 the Internet, mostly, for raising my awareness and offering up so much information. I have a front row seat to how aging pillages our minds and bodies, and it scares me a little.
We’re all aging at different rates, but my generation of GenXers is meandering around the middle third of our lifetimes with a youthful enthusiasm that causes generations older and younger to laugh at us. Thankfully, with maturity comes confidence, so we’re too old to care.
But it’s hard to ignore the pain in my knee, the one that I expected to go away but never did. Or the difficulty of hearing a conversation in a noisy restaurant, and two people singing the “what did you say?” duet. Or the need to stretch my legs after two hours in the car, just so that I don’t seize up or get a cramp.
And let’s not forget my inability to sleep through the night, which, for this historically dead sleeper, was an unwelcome habit when it started a few years ago. Or the necessity of light, and lots of it, when I read or write or pretty much do anything. The number of times I sit squinting to read the news crawl on the bottom of the television screen is growing year by year.
Some mornings when I look at the reflection in the mirror, I’m astounded by what’s happened. I can tell it’s me, that it’s the same face I’ve been staring at for almost 40 years, but it’s something else, too, something deep and hard-earned. My skin isn’t perfect like it was when I was younger, I can see the crow’s feet and dry patches, some discolouration, and it’s not as tight, it’s loosened up somehow. Like a leather purse someone bought in 1998 and used regularly over the years.
The physical changes of growing old are to be expected, of course. I know I’ve slowed down significantly. I can still climb a few flights of stairs without needing a medic, and I can still open jars myself, but don’t ask me to make a diving catch in the outfield during a baseball game because you’ll be sorely disappointed. I made the mistake a few years ago of attempting a cartwheel – how hard can it be? I thought, I used to be able to do a back handspring – but needless to say, it was not pretty. My physical abilities, along with my endurance, have declined exponentially. I get tired faster and with less warning.
There’s been a corresponding adjustment in attitude too. I strive for more peace and quiet and less excitement. I don’t care if someone sees me in jogging pants or without makeup. I am appreciative of what I have and stay away from those who suck the happiness out of the people around them. I avoid conflict, even when I know someone else is in the wrong. My happiest days are spent at home with family, or having a good laugh with friends.
And yet, I worry about how my body will react in the next decade or so, if my mind will stay true and clear, if and when my health will betray me. I can’t imagine a day where I don’t have full independence, but I’m well aware of how quickly our vision for ourselves can change as the years go by.
When all is said and done, in spite of the marshaling together of prudence and resources, we are all destined to get older. It’s just hard to swallow.