Thoughts about getting old

(Photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis of The Roanoke Times)

A long-time friend who had not seen me for a while said I now “look older, more ragged and have less spark.”

In other words, I look like an old man.

In age, I’m considered old.  I’ll be 72 in less than four months.  My hair is mostly white and while I still have a full head of the stuff, it’s thinner now and I have to clear some of what falls out from the drain when I shower.

I walk more uneven now than I did shortly after leaving the hospital after more than two months of there, recovering from a motorcycle crash in 2012.  My legs don’t always want to work and I’ve lost strength in them even with exercise.  I need to lose at least 20 pounds — 30 would be even better.

My memory isn’t what is used to be, thanks to aging and a closed brain injury in the motorcycle accident.

Whoever called these years “the golden age” had a sick sense of humor.

Getting old was something I seldom thought.  At 19, I was the youngest full time reporter-photographer for The Roanoke Times.  By 25, I was a city editor of The Telegraph in Alton, IL, assistant executive editor before age 30 and a Congressional chief of staff at 34.  I was always considered “young” for my place in life.

But, as the old cliche goes, “that was then, this is now.” Now, I look around and realize that I’m often the oldest guy in the room.

Then, again, maybe not.  The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria, says “old age” does not begin for many of us until at least age 74.

“If you don’t consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on,” said Sergei Scherbov, World Population Program Deputy Director, at IIASA.

“Older people in the future will have many characteristics exhibited by younger people today.

“What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives. 200 years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person. Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle-aged.”

“For many people, 70 is the new 50 and signifies the quiet revolution that has place in longevity,” says Alan Walker, professor of social policy and social gerontology at the University of Sheffield.

Of course, this mostly benefits those who have taken care of themselves over the years.

I’ve broken too many bones in my life, walk with a permanent limp because broken bones in left one leg three-quarters of an inch shorter than the other.  I’ve suffered two near-fatal accidents, one at 20 and the other at 64.  I have some missing body parts, metal replacing others and one written doctor’s analysis that called me “a walking miracle.”

On this painful week, “walking miracle” is an overstatement.  My left leg gave out on while working up the main staircase of our home Wednesday.  I had to stop and left the pain stop and feeling return before finishing the climb.  That seems ironic, because my right leg is the one that suffered the most damage in 2012.

However, I still can — and do — ride motorcycles.  I still spend Friday nights in the fall wandering up and down the sidelines of football games, shooting images for newspapers for The Floyd Press.  I still find ways to get in difficult physical situations and, at my age, can’t blame youthful indiscretions for any of them.

The best way to fight such things, those of us who are up in years are told, is to remember that old age is a state of mind over matter.

Mark Twain said all of us should remember that “age if a case of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter.”

Good advice, but what happens when it does matter?

Let’s not think about that.

 

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