Updated: Jul 7, 2022
My wife was swimming with a lady who complained of being “old.” Turned out she was 10 years younger than my wife.
Have you run into people who are “old?” Or, at least, they talk about themselves as old?
Not hard to find the “old” people. Seems to me I’ve encountered them most of my life. At least now, at age 77, I’m the right age. My grandfather, who always seemed to me to be old, died just prior to his 80th birthday. Surprise. Surprise. I’m sneaking up on his level of “old.” Last June sometime I zipped on by the average life expectancy for men in the United States, calculated at 76.1.
I think of myself as just the right age. I don’t think of myself as old.
How ‘bout you? Are you old? In conversations, do you refer to yourself as old?
I don’t think the problem here is mileage—how far we’ve come. And I certainly don’t feel old in the same way as the lady in the pool. I belong to a group whose three principal leaders are in their mid-80s. They’re still going strong, seem to be fully competent, and provide good leadership.
Some of us may look the “worse for wear.” Gray hair, wrinkles, and the like may be signs of being older but not necessarily indicators of being old.
What’s the difference? Being older is quite easily done: I got up this morning. I’m a day older than yesterday. You, too, can confirm the year on the calendar or see parts of your life go by using the second hand on your watch.
Being “old” is different. It’s more a state of mind. Here are some triggers that may elicit the proclamation ”old.”
Performance: When I can’t do today what I could yesterday, I feel a pang of regret. I’ve lost ground. I’m not up to being me, or, at least, what I’d like to see as me. I’m less than what I was. My first suggestion when this happens is to acknowledge the feeling. We’ve lost something and its not something we gave away. We might also be a little angry. That’s okay. Do some assessment. Have you really lost ground or is today’s complaint temporary? Did you get enough sleep last night?
“Weird” compliments: “You sure are looking good.” Can’t you just hear the subtext to that: “for your age”? People try to be nice and often don’t know they’re smacking you on the back of the head the minute the words slip out. I chalk it up to inexperience talking to people my age. So, I just let them give compliments and hope there is some truth to what they say. I shouldn’t complain; I don’t know how to act my age either; I’ve never been this old before.
Noticing the young: Aren’t your doctors looking younger these days? We used to pick our doctor based on his looking “distinguished.” Through a great deal of my growing up years and adulthood, my doctor was older than I was. Now store clerks, doctors, accountants, lawyers, and on and on look like trainees. These new pros probably aren’t even aware of the problem. Cut them some slack. Besides, their expertise is more up-to-date than the previous crop of now retired experts. We get a bonus.
Comparison: It’s not hard to find a younger you in pictures or stories that
stimulate a wistful recall of times when you felt more able. (Do you think I could get on that tricycle today?)
I also know people my age who are far more active, walking the full length of the greenway, running half-marathons, swimming competitively and bringing home the gold. Sometimes I feel a sense of longing—I sure wish I could do that. Though it sounds great to take a running start carrying a sled, diving on for the trip down the hill, let’s get real. I could also break myself. With age I’ve thankfully gained a level of self-care.
Many of these examples are reflections on ability. Sadly, ability is transitory. Fortunately your ability does not represent the sum of who you are and have become.
In fact your abilities may not always have been yours. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t even walk; we have the baby pictures. Earlier this year I got a new bionic hip and, surprisingly, for four weeks, the doctor didn’t want me to walk or use the hip much. FYI: four months later finds me closer to the much coveted “back up to speed” distinction.
Abilities come; abilities go.
But there are other traits maybe not so transitory that are worth having onto.
I have a grandson who can’t help himself. If he sees a rock, he wants to turn it over to see what’s under. This practice started when he was five years old and a professor at a local university taught him he could find bugs under rocks. He loves bugs. His inclination is to leave no stone unturned.
My grandson is curious. This looking to see what’s there shows up in other things. He loves Agatha Christi and devours the clues. He likes mythology, and on and on.
A couple of years ago I finished a 100 episode podcast on volunteering. I did it so retirees would have a resource for ideas about what to do. I also did it because I’m curious. What is that organization? What does it do? What is your role in it?
My grandson and I are curious.
What about you? Are you curious? You’re not too old, you know. Aren’t there some rocks in your life worth looking under?
I have a friend who is in her 90’s. Her curiosity continues. Why did her ancestors move to this country? How did they end up in Minnesota? She’s on a quest to learn more.
Unlike abilities, curiosity doesn’t come and go readily. It can be a life-long driving force.
And then there’s…
I’m sure there are other drives in our lives that keep us going. Empathy, love, and persistence all come to mind. These can get richer and richer. Any of these traits seem less fragile than ability.
I invite you to get curious. Take out a paper. Put these four questions on the paper allowing room between. As this next week progresses, write down what you’ve done that fits those categories.
How did you show love?
Where did you find yourself being persistent?
What were you curious about?
Where did you feel empathy?
As long as you can do these things, you are not old. You can claim that you’re getting older, but don’t say you’re old. You’re just right.
Ed Zinkiewicz…the retired guy