On November 14, 2013, I became eighty years old. I can say it with a casualness I am totally incapable of feeling. Me? Eighty years old? I find it similar to staring at the Rosetta Stone and knowing it has great significance, without having any idea of what it says. I do not like being eighty years old. Despite what the calendar says, I am not eighty years old. I am, as my heart and mind keep telling me I am, twenty. Twenty-five, tops.
I grieve for my body. It saddens me beyond my power to describe that I am increasingly unable to care for and protect it as I have always been able to count on it to care for and protect me. I cannot help but feel that the natural aging process to which everyone is subject was greatly accelerated by my 2003 bout with tongue cancer. I won the battle, but at a considerable cost. Catching a glimpse of myself in any reflective surface never ceases to be a shock.
I have recently taken to drooling. Because my head is bent forward as a result of the cancer treatment, liquid—I have no idea what it consists of, since my salivary glands were destroyed by the radiation—gathers at the front of my mouth and leaks out without my knowing it until I glance down at my shirt. I find it humiliating, but I cannot blame my body.
Life is a gift which comes with a price tag, and growing physically old and drooling are merely part of the bill to be paid for the privilege of remaining alive.
I was somewhat surprised to find, after a quick bit of research, that fully fifty-six percent of Americans live to be eighty years old, so my being eighty is not quite the accomplishment I had assumed it to be. And on the “glass half full” principle, it means I have lived longer than forty-four percent of Americans has or will.
While few people enjoy getting older, the vast majority accept it without question. But for those of us who, however old, recognize the Peter Pan within themselves, the reaction can range from sadness to terror. I encompass the entire range. While I do not fear nor have ever feared death—which I see as merely a return to the eternity from which we each somehow emerged—the irrefutable fact is that even if I live to be over one hundred, I still have far more life behind me than ahead. And like the child who does not want to go to bed…who wants to stay up just a little longer…I don’t want to miss out on anything. The entire future, the progress we will make as a society and a race, the places we will go as a species, and the wonders we today cannot even conceive; all this will happen without me, and I feel cheated.
Of course, at eighty I have lived through momentous historical events those younger than I have only read of or seen in old movies or photographs. I was privileged to have been entertained by wonderfully talented people who are now all but forgotten, to have seen amazing live performances by now long gone legends of the entertainment industry. I listened to others on radio in the days long before television. Though only in grade school, I lived through WWII and rationing and war bonds and Victory Gardens with a nation that responded as one people, not as Republicans or Democrats. I remember the disgraceful Communist witch hunts led by the equally disgraceful Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose hate-filled tactics and tirades provided the playbook for the likes of the loathsome Ted Cruz and his minions of psychopaths.
I am infinitely (an interesting word, considering) grateful for all of the things I have done that those younger than me have missed, the events that I’ve witnessed, the advances and changes I’ve seen. But the little child in me still wants…more. Always and forever, more.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit 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), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).