When I was a kid, my grandmother would tell me, “Don’t get old.”
When I was an adult, my mother would tell me, “Getting old is the shits.”
Now that I am officially entitled to the senior discount at Denny’s, I can say that I understand their point of view:
When I look at my skin — especially my neck.
When I try to get out of my kayak.
When I can’t eat and drink the way I used to without horrendous consequences.
I could go on, but the physical disadvantages are not my point.
My point is that I am actually happier now than I have ever been.
I do feel like I’ve figured out things that used to bother me — or at least, that I’ve made my peace with ambiguity. I enjoy now — teaching, publishing, being married to my husband, parenting (as much as I can) my adult children – and my granddaughter! I know that more physical problems are in my future. Inevitably. It scares me if I think about it too much.
And, of course, if I think too much about covid and climate change. There are so many things that scare me. But.
I have to believe that I will adapt to being able to do less. I hope I will adapt to any other changes I may have to face. I know I will still be able to read and write and talk to my husband. If my eyes give out, I may listen to books. If I can’t type, I may be speaking my stories. Fortunately, I live in a time when those things are possible.
I think of that cliche: age is mostly a matter of mind over matter — if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. As with most cliches, it is sort of true. You can’t help minding when your joints creak and you have to ask people to repeat themselves and you can’t think of that thing you were about to do. But you can also be aware of the advantages you have.
For me, that means I know how to write a lot better than I did when I was younger, I am much less self-conscious, and I am much more forgiving of myself and others. These are advantages worth aging for, I think.
In John Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War, senior citizens choose to become part of an inter-stellar army for the chance of being young again. I can’t imagine doing that. I can’t imagine the person I am now being willing to go off and kill other sentient life forms just for the chance to live more years in a young body.
Maybe I’ll feel differently when I can’t kayak anymore, but I think — I hope —I’ve aged beyond that kind of self-centeredness.