When I was 19, a wise wino told me, "The truth only hurts for a minute." In September I will turn 60, and that truth hurts for more than a minute. The sad thing is that when (if) I am 70, I will be wishing I were 60, like I wish I were 50, like I wished I were 40 when I turned 50. However, when I turned 40, I was such a party animal that I did not realize I was 40 until I was 41. (Don't judge me.)
People tell me that 60 is the new 50. People also tell me I look like I'm in my late 30s. Sadly -- or mercifully -- people lie. Even if the years have been kind, the weekends have been hell. Besides, it's not the years that matter; it's the mileage, and I've rolled over a few times. The lines I've given my dates over the years are showing up on my face; it would take two Skycaps and a hand dolly to handle the bags under my eyes, even if I do look like I am a 40-year-old. A 40-year old what is the question.
I am just not pretty anymore. The days of knowing that, in a worst-case scenario, I could resort to a loose look and some tight jeans are long gone. I say this jokingly, but it is frightening knowing that in a worst-case scenario, compromising my principles to survive is no longer an option. While compromising principles should never be an option in a worst-case scenario, not having that option is the worst-case scenario. Yes, my 30-year marriage beats the heck out of being a "bar 10" (an 8 plus two strong drinks). Still, there is just something very unsettling about it. Perhaps it is because I live in Los Angeles, which is the shallow end of the pool. Granted, living in a city where there is a 2-percent chance of rain and 90-percent chance of Botox contributes to my angst, but I do not think it would be different in earthy, evolved Ann Arbor.
Then there are the health issues of old age. The last time I had an electrocardiogram, the EKG machine spit out a list of funeral homes. I spend more time in the hospital than my friend, the Evil Badger, and he's a cardiac surgeon. No matter how young my face looks, the fact is the 88-year-old next door walks farther than I do, so, for me, 60 is the new 90. Things with my friends are equally bad: strokes, heart attacks, and liver cirrhosis, and people are replacing hips like they are toothbrushes; it is WebMD: The Broadway Musical. My friends and I are like a caravan of Pontiac Azteks on a long road trip.
The Campbell Soup Years Are Over
There are landmark events in life: birth, losing your virginity, graduation, marriage, retirement, and death. I cannot remember the first two, and I only have the last two left. That is bleak no matter how you try and spin it. For religious sorts there is the reward of the afterlife. For us non-deists there are burial costs that somebody must pay, end of story. So how, then, does one go on, and why does one go on, especially those of us who do not have children?
This has bothered me ever since I turned 55, which is the age where, if you die, your death is no longer medically considered unexpected or premature.
So what to do? I could commit suicide, but they say that that is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, although growing old not being temporary is the problem. Still, I cannot commit suicide; what kind of message is that for my godchildren and my great nieces and nephews? Besides, all I really have to do is forget to take my medicine and wait five minutes if I really want to expire. I used to think, "Live hard, live fast, die young, and have a beautiful corpse." None of that is doable now.
Then it hit me. This is just like junior-high orientation. They said, "You are coming into a new environment, and it is going to be different. We know you are afraid, but it will be OK. You will get used to it." Well, I already knew it was going to be OK. I had friends in junior high who were telling me how cool it was because the girls have breasts. While that was great for some guys, I was that fat guy in gym class who never wanted to take off his shirt because he had breasts. So junior high was not so great on that level. However, it was spectacular in other ways. The same proved to be true with high school, college, and adult life.
So now I am standing in the shadows of youth. OK, the shadows of middle age at best, but why should it be any different? There will be good and bad, because a differential engine powers life. What value would joy have without the comparison of sorrow, and beneath the fields of failure lie the seeds that will become the triumphs of tomorrow. Yes, growing old is not junior high, and there are no cool guys saying how great it is. Instead of looking forward to my first dance, I am anticipating my last. Infallible youth and the power of "bar cute" have evolved into vulnerability, conditional surrender, and the wisdom of age. Just as the green of spring is the brightest green of all, nothing compares with the vibrant visual symphony of the colorful leaves of fall. The summer sun is exquisite, but equally magical is winter's first snow. Likewise, when people and familiarities begin to go and nothing is same, there is a hidden rapture in the mourning of the season's change.
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