The Old Man
Sixty is the new forty – probably uttered by some hopeful fifty year old.
If you take the time to notice, part of the fun of growing old is seeing how different being a senior citizen looks than you thought it would at forty. At forty, you probably noticed how Dad would puff himself up when someone … usually a waitress or salesgirl … said, Oh, you don’t look that old! You thought to yourself, She’s trying to get a tip or make a sale, Dad. You probably listened to parents and grandparents talking about aliments and failing body parts in clinical, sometimes graphic, detail and thought, Man, I’ll never do that. You may have set off every day for a run … or 30 laps at the pool … convinced that taking care of yourself would protect you from those little pains Mom was always complaining about. You probably uttered the phrase, I think you are only as old as you feel, thinking that was always a good thing. Then, you got there, and in the inimitable words of my Mom, you said, Well, I’ll be damned.
I am seventy-two. People regularly express surprise when I tell them that, and quite frankly, I don’t care if it’s flattery. I talk about ailments and medical issues with my contemporaries and notice that my standards for Too Much Information have moved substantially farther south. I now set off for a daily walk, achingly aware that those years running the Santa Ana River trail or piling up laps in the community pool haven’t spared me from spontaneous cricks, cramps and pains that seem to show up for no reason at all then vanish mysteriously in a few days, as if to say, How old do you feel now? To any sixty-year old considering extrapolation quote at the top of this post, seventy-two is definitely not the new fifty-two.
Lately, my lovely wife, Muri, has been noticing that lately I talk about myself as old. You never used to do that, Bud, she says, and it worries me. As is usually the case, she’s right, but how do I balance a graceful acceptance of aging and acting younger than my 72 years? In an interview with this week, when director-actor-musician Clint Eastwood was asked how he keeps going strong at 86, he said, I Never Let the Old Man In. Who am I to argue with success … but still, I have to wonder … when Clint stands naked in front of the mirror or rolls out of bed with that twinge in his back, doesn’t he know, deep down, that the old man’s already in? I’d put it differently. I have decades of younger Buds living in my head, each willing to drive this old body. The forty year old whispers, as I’m walking in the park, Let’s jog a mile. I bet we could build up to a marathon. The fifty-year old suggests that I still have time to write that novel. The sixty year old tries to convince me I can replace that overhead lighting fixture in the laundry room without hurting myself. But the old man in my head just says Don’t or Be Careful. So, that’s why I Never Let the Old Man Drive even if it costs me a bruise or a stumble now and then.