“Why don’t you write something positive about aging? You know, the good things about growing older?”
I looked at this woman, whom I genuinely love with all my heart, suddenly thankful that we had kept up the payments on our long-term care policies. Certain that she had totally lost her mind overnight, I said, “You mean, list the reasons why I’m glad that I ain’t dead yet? That’s great. Whatcha got for the second paragraph?”
“You know what I mean,” she said.
“Yes, I think so,” I said. “Being old is better than being expired because I get to see how my kids handle the same challenges that I had. For instance, they’re better at some child-rearing techniques than I am.”
I thought about what happens now when a kid says he is thirsty. The solution is simple — get the child some water — but today’s response is a different response than when I was a kid. My mom just pointed out for the millionth time that there is a hose in the backyard that produces fresh well water on demand and if you let it run long enough, it will taste less like rancid pond water seasoned with last spring’s goose poop. Parental task accomplished.
But today there is a lot more to taking care of what used to be a simple task like this one. No longer do I see the simple, direct solution to healing a thirsty kid. No, it’s having 16-ounce plastic water bottles in the refrigerator ready to go. Does a parent hand the child the whole bottle? No, that would be wasteful, for you know that the bottle will be made a tool for mischief of some sort and the cold water is certain to be wasted. No, the parent selects the bottle from the fridge, pours a portion of it into another plastic vessel, and, with an admonition not to lose the cup nor spill its precious contents, sends the child away.
That transaction is a whole lot more complicated than it was in the ancient days of my youth, and I’m not sure it’s useful in a column on the positive aspects of growing old.
The age of majority was also the age of eligibility for the draft. That’s not a concern for American young men now. Opinions differ on whether that’s a wise and better thing, but I’d wager that most youths consider it a positive.
Middle age stays longer. Get used to trembling hands and failing eyes and ears. We will live longer with those things, but fewer things will kill us right away. Positive.
When we finally cross that river, the cause will not be a mystery. Technology will tell us what happened. Positive for the survivors.
The idea of “growing old” suggests a slow and steady movement from infant to ancient. That’s not what happens. One day, far down the aging continuum, a middle-aged person, happy and in good “shower voice,” will emerge from the shower to a shocking change. The mirror’s reflection will be that of an aged human. This is not the same image of 10 minutes before. This new image more closely resembles that of a parent or a grandparent even. There is loose and flabby skin with the scars of injuries and surgeries, no hair where there used to be plenty, lots of hair where there was none, plus marks and bruises of unknown origin. So sudden is the change of the image that stares back that it is hard to compute and harder still to accept as reality. You haven’t “grown old”; you just are.
But in that alone come wonderful gifts. Old folks are forgiven the public passing of gas, for instance. “He’s getting old,” they will say. Or leaving ridiculously long voicemails, writing thank-you notes in cursive, reminiscing about the good ol’ days (see the garden hose above), crazy stuff like voting and only choosing booths at restaurants, and, of course, my favorite, ignoring trends. All of them.
So, I suppose there are positive aspects to the aging process. But they are mostly secrets that we won’t share with youngsters. Let them experience the joy and surprise as we did. They can write their own columns.
Happy New Year!
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.