I got on the el this morning, and a very nice gentleman offered me his seat. While I appreciated his kindness (there is some hope for humanity left), I was, well, mildly humiliated by the fact that he thought I needed a seat...that he looked at me and saw an old man! I'm not an old man. I'm not! I'm as young as anyone on that crowed el car. The only difference between us is our physical appearance.
As a confirmed agnostic, basic logic prevents me from believing, much as I might like to, in the concept of a sentient God--though there are times when I do suspect there might be Someone out there with a really perverse sense of humor. How else can you explain the fact that we are totally unprepared for the fact of getting old? There is absolutely no way to understand what it's like until you've done it.
The worst part about getting old is being gradually robbed, though at a seemingly increasing pace, of those fundamental, basic things you have done all your life without so much as a conscious thought. Running, for example. I used to love to run just for the joy of running. Now when I try to run, I don't run so much as lurch clumsily like one of the creatures in a zombie movie. I was never graceful, but I was agile. I am no longer agile, and unless you are my age or older or otherwise physically disabled, you cannot possibly understand the frustration involved. I see it as a loss of dignity.
I realize that my personal aging process was markedly hastened as a result of the residual effects from my treatment for tongue cancer in 2003. And I am fully aware of my apparent lack of gratitude for having survived it. Were it not for the treatment, I would not be writing this blog. Still, can you imagine not being able to whistle when you've whistled all your life?
As another of aging's little annoyances, I have an appointment next week with an audiologist to see about getting a hearing aid--the very thought of which would have horrified the younger me. But vanity only goes so far and I'm tired of watching TV or a stage production and not being able to make out what is being said. I understand this problem is endemic with age, but I bitterly resent its happening to me. Old people wear hearing aids; I don't. But I fear I will.
When I was younger (say, from yesterday backward), I would look at old people with a mixture of incomprehension and sorrow, not understanding how they could possibly have become who they are, compared to, say, photos of them when they were in their 20s. How did they get so timid? So insecure? So dependent on others for simple things? Now I'm realizing that a lot of the changes are brought upon by the simple fact of accumulated repetitiveness: being overly cautious results from having experienced too many occasions where lack of caution had negative and painful results. It takes a long time to reach this stage. Everyone has fallen down from slipping on unseen ice--many times. But with each occurrence, you become ever so slightly more cautious until the point is reached where you anticipate falling, even though you probably won't, and simply don't want to risk it.
Increasingly brittle bones, joints eroded from decade upon decade of constant use, the inevitable and accelerating loss of friends and family who were the very foundations of your life; so very many things totally inconceivable when you are 20 or 30 or 40 slowly intrude into your day-to-day existence.
So I am old. I do not like being old. I do not like being robbed of things I have had and cherished all my life. I do not like not looking like everyone else, or not being treated by others as one of them. I resent it more than I can possibly say...even more-so when I realize there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it.
And yet, the undeniable fact is that I have been granted the luxury of getting old whereas billions of others were denied it. For all my bitching and moaning, it is a gift for which I am deeply grateful, and one I will not relinquish willingly, no matter how much older I may be allowed to grow. I try never to forget that the only people who are as young as they used to be are dead.
Enjoy--and appreciate--every moment of your journey through life. May it be a long one.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).