I was recently asked to consider writing a column about the positive things about growing old.
Initially, I found the proposition to be absurd, but it quickly ramped up all the way to hilarious in an oxymoronic kind of way. You would have to have spent time in my body the last 15 or so years to understand. More than a half-dozen pretty good surgeons on two coasts have spent time in there, excavating, pruning, trenching, dredging, prospecting and tidying up muculent stuff most folks don’t discuss in polite company. Yet here I am, all old and everything, so I guess that’s a positive. There must be some other positives about the ghastly image in the bathroom mirror, so I went looking for them and came up mostly empty-handed. But, to be honest, there are a few legitimate plus-side things I can mention.
There is a noticeable trace of blondish-whitish-grayish hair on my head. Nowhere near the volume that was up there pre-chemo, but it’s there. And my chin whiskers, a fixture in the mirror since 1972, are mostly filled back in, although not as orderly in growth. I no longer see the bright-eyed, enthusiastic smart aleck who was the image of my youth and middle age, but now there is a bit of wisdom in the eyes, even if they don’t see as well. Many things about life are clearer now, just as other things are not. The blessing of hindsight can ruin a man’s sleep.
Speaking of sight, it’s a wonder of modern technology that the road signs in my rural stomping grounds are blindingly bright, brighter even than the headlight beams of new cars coming toward me at night. Cataract surgery exacerbated the problem, and I can see the end of my driving career more clearly than I can see most other things. Even now, a friend who attends a regular Thursday evening meeting with me will wait for me in the parking lot after the meeting for the drive home. He knows I am not familiar with the road and my night vision is not what it once was, so he leaves with me tucked in behind him to show me the way by his taillights. I joke that it’s to clear a path through the pedestrians and wildlife that I might not see, but his kind gesture is what keeps me going to the meetings that don’t end until after dark, and that’s a positive.
The wrinkles and accumulated sun damage in my mirrored image put an end to the idea of living a long life wrapped in a secure, protective covering of healthy skin. I am the retirement plan for an entire building of dermatological health care professionals, several of whom have sliced, pared, cored and frozen stuff off me, leaving scars and an assortment of ugly marks to remind me just how much healthier I am now as a result of their efforts. Positive.
If the image blankly gazing back at me seems somewhat out of plumb, it’s because it is. The bony structure that holds up my skin and what remains of the squishy stuff inside is eroding and most of my shock mounts, hinges, shut-off valves, and safety systems are in need of repair, replacement or interment. So I’m a bit crooked now and some parts are favored while others try to pick up the slack, often with painful results. The positive here is that I can still get to a nearly vertical position most of the time, given sufficient notice, enough coffee and something to balance myself on.
So I will admit there are some positive aspects of growing old, and the most appreciated one is the blessing of being here to complain about growing old.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.