I have often told people that the most important thing in trying to remain happy while pushing on into one’s later years is acceptance of the changes that aging brings. I know, I know … everyone says sixty is the new forty … and then, by deductive reasoning, seventy is the new fifty. Let me tell you, the trip from fifty to seventy brings many changes. Some are good. Many are not. And sometimes, happiness depends on more than simple acceptance.
In seventy years we pick up a zillion habits, most of which are as unconscious as they are deeply ingrained. Recently, as I’ve been recovering from a tear in a muscle in my hip, I’ve had to become aware of a few that I need to break. Example: I have carried my wallet in my right back pocket for as long as I can remember, in spite of the warnings that it made me a target for pickpockets. At seventy-one, it turns out that sitting with my wallet there aggravates a nerve in my buttocks that exacerbates the pain in my hip. My physical therapist also suggested that it tilts me to one side, which can contribute the the hip soreness. Seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to put my wallet anywhere but in that pocket? Or when I do put it in my side pocket or the glovebox, not to panic when I execute one my other unconscious habits, patting my right cheek to be sure I have my wallet? For years, too, I’ve sat with left leg crossed over right. You know something’s a habit when your head knows it’s going to hurt but you do it anyway. If I had a buck for every time I crossed my right leg over my left in the last month, my wife, Muri, and I could go out for a very nice dinner indeed.
As hard as it is to break habits at seventy, it’s harder to develop new ones … yet that’s exactly what I need to do if I want to be a happy, healthy and presentable old coot. As the hair has disappeared from my head, I’ve discovered I can grow quite a forest on the back of my neck, enough to occasionally look my shirt has a fur collar. And my eyebrows and ears sprout long, curly hairs that, given my Older Eyes, I can’t see without the benefit of an arc lamp. If I don’t tend to them, I find Muri looking at me across the dinner table, wishing for a pair of tweezers. Did I ever think I’d have to make a habit of tweezing my eyebrows and shaving my ears? After years of asking my kids and grandkids, Do you have to go potty? every time we were anywhere near a restroom, then Are you sure? to be sure, I need to ask myself the same questions. When we go out to dinner, I need to watch what I eat, maybe even take a preventative patent item if we’re going to the theater. Missing Act II, Scene I isn’t any fun, nor is watching it from the doorway nearest the men’s room. Another habit I need to cultivate is stopping to think any time I find myself anywhere near a ladder, Do you really want to do that?. Yes, and Are you sure? Climbing on a ladder is, after all, how I hurt my hip in the first place.
If you are someone with Younger Eyes who’s just stopped by without knowing what you’d find here, you’re probably thinking, Jeez. Old age sucks. And I could agree with you if I wanted to be a bitter old curmudgeon instead of a funny one. The trick is to aging gracefully is accepting the parts that suck, maybe even laughing knowingly about them with your contemporaries, then going on to enjoy the the good stuff, like knowing the value of every moment. That doesn’t always come naturally.