For millions of boomers passing from 50-something to 60-something, day-to-day life begins to seem like a series of small humiliations.
We think we're well-read, but we have a hard time recommending a book we've enjoyed to a friend because we can't remember the title, let alone the plot. We pride ourselves on exercising vigorously, but more and more often, a throbbing pain in the shoulder or an ache in the lower back warns us to stop before a single endorphin has kicked in. We've always been super-efficient at getting things done, but now we can't let the multi-tasking begin until we locate the new pair of glasses we bought to help us find the old pair.
Well-meaning family and friends remind us how young we look, and we may even feel young. But a glance at the calendar -- or a look in the mirror to see our graying hair and expanding bald spot -- proves we're not young.
The good news is that within the dark clouds of humiliation, silver linings await the silver-haired.
Say you've blown a lunch appointment with a friend you care about -- you wrote it down in your calendar but forgot to check the calendar. Sure this sucks, but now you have a chance to tell your friend how important she is to you. (This is especially rewarding for guys who have little or no experience communicating positive feelings to other humans.)
You want to be a stand-up guy for your stood-up friend, so you offer to buy her dinner at a favorite restaurant. On the way, you're riveted by the otherworldly sound of Ralph Stanley singing "O Death" on your CD player, so you get hopelessly lost. You haven't read your car's 600-page manual so you don't know how to activate its GPS, and all you get from the frosty woman on your cell's navigation app is a terse instruction to make an illegal u-turn.
Know this: you will find the eatery, and in so doing, science shows, your brainpower will be enhanced! You can also take comfort in the fact (or so you tell yourself) that you avoided the accident that would surely have befallen you if you had taken the road usually taken.
N.b.: If you arrive at the restaurant with no conscious awareness of how you got there, try to remember to sign up for a mindfulness class.
What if you find yourself in your basement with no clue as to the purpose of your expedition? Here is an opportunity for great insight. Think of the basement as a metaphor instead of a merely functional space and you'll understand that the depths of your basement symbolizes the profundity of your soul.
Sometimes the silver lining is obvious. If you've climbed the stairs to your fifth-floor walk-up for the third time -- you'd forgotten your groceries the first and the second time around -- you can skip the treadmill.
But where's the silver lining when bizarrely false sentences spill out of your mouth as if channeled by an independent entity? I told a friend who's moving to 81st and Broadway in Manhattan that my mom has an apartment just down the street, at 78th. When I was reminded that my mom's place is actually on 68th, my humiliation turned into wonder at the sheer weirdness of how the human brain works. I choose to view such moments as scientific inquiry.
Then there's the conflation conundrum. Say you're enjoying the scents of the mixed berries at the farmer's market and suddenly you get all teary-eyed when you hear the Raspberries' "Go All The Way" emanating from the fruit-seller's boom box. You explain that the Strawberries helped get you through a particularly lonely segment of teenagery. No need to beat yourself up because you merged the Raspberries and the Strawbs -- a less-inspiring band from the same era. You did nothing wrong -- it's just a juicy neuronal misfire.
The possibilities for making fresh lemonade from old lemons are endless. Can't open your birthday present? Watch this and you'll laugh so hard you forget the present.
A teenage girl takes pity and offers you her seat on the subway? Take a breath and practice graciousness in the way you decline the offer. Cashiers stop asking you to prove you qualify for the "seniors" price of a movie ticket? Use the money you save to buy a hot fudge sundae.
Dark clouds and silver linings aside, the embarrassments we see as proof of impending geezer-hood are more universal than we think. A 50-something friend told his 75-year-old ex-psychologist not to worry -- that even his teenage kids find themselves in rooms for no apparent reason and produce strange conflations. The psychologist said, "You have kids my age?!"