At 80 years old, I look back and wonder what the hell happened?
Well, at 80 I guess I have to concede…I might be “old”. I recall the old humorous signs we often saw in offices: to paraphrase it, “a few yeers ago, I cun’t spel ‘elderlly', now I are one.” But reviewing my journey to this condition has been interesting and awakening to me. Let me explain.
When I was real young (say 10 or so), there was no “aging” at all. It seemed to me that the Great One, whoever that was, created the earth with various age groups probably just for some kind of diversity. I was one of the fortunate ones; I was placed in the “young” group. Time seemed to move so slowly, with endless lazy summer days. Old people seemed like creatures from some other time and place. Thank goodness, I would never be “one of them.”
My folks frequently took me to visit my grandfather’s mother. No, this is not a typo or error, my great grandmother was alive well into my life. Often we would go to the Jewish Home for the Aged to visit her. It was not an especially pleasant experience for a youngster; the building kind of smelled of “old”…the folks there were on walkers or worse…and they were very gray and sallow. Moreover, there was lots of Yiddish spoken, confirming my suspicion, these people were somehow alien and a different breed of human altogether. It was not a place I liked to visit, nor could I in my wildest imagination ever expect to be like “them.”
Well, soon I grew into young adulthood. I had some slight perception of aging and the aged, but still that was far off, and of little concern to me. They still seemed a bit foreign, maybe even alien, like a world apart from mine. Then the unthinkable happened: I turned 30. It was a watershed birthday for me, representing the end of young adulthood and the first step into middle age.
The elderly did not seem so foreign to me at that point, just people who were living longer. I was able to converse, relate and even understand them a bit, but their situation was not for me. I was healthy, active, without pain or disease – so they were still quite different, and their lot was beyond my comprehension that I could or would ever be like “them.”
Then as I neared 50, I started getting disturbing literature and phone calls. People who wanted to discuss retirement. Retirement? That was along ways off, and I did not want to be bothered with such nonsense. AARP solicited me to join, not a good sign. Equally disturbing were slight even imperceptible changes in ME. Like in my appearance. Was I beginning to look like “them”? No, they were very very old, and were shriveled, wrinkled people with large tummies and creaky legs. That’s not possible, that’s really not me.
There were other disturbing life experiences that caused some consternation regarding aging: our three children had all graduated college and had moved out of the house. We were “empty nesters”. That sounded old, and caused more awakening to the process. Time seemed to be speeding by; and was that a new wrinkle I just saw?
Before I knew it, I was hit with another watershed birthday: 60. As the one at 30 moved me from a young adult to first step middle age, this one transitioned me from middle age to “senior citizen.” Boy, I sure did not like the sound of that. It could mean maybe I was getting…old! Worse yet, I could now converse and communicate quite easily with others in my predicament, that is, other seniors. We had common experiences and common history that went back pretty far. Like WWII and Korea, and Kennedy, and even way back to FDR and Truman. Stuff that young people today read about as ancient history. Of course, I rationalized; this does not make me “old”, just more mature.
Then it happened again! Another one of those damn watershed birthdays. I turned 80. Now there was no denying it…I was old! Statistics say I am older than 96 percent of the population in America. OMG, I was one of “them.” Time now was going so fast, it was mostly a blur, like those movies shown in fast motion. Worse yet, the mirror confirmed it: I was gray, sallow, more wrinkles, and with creaky legs. Fortunately, I avoided the large tummy and virtually all the maladies associated with my peer group. But I had very little wiggle room in disclaiming the fact that I was...old!
Then it occurred to me, I had one out left. I noted there were still a fair number of folks who made into their 90’s. Aha…they were my “new old”. I would reach for their age, and when I successfully achieved it, I would look back and say to myself: “Boy, I remember when I was just a youngster…when I was only 80.”