Often, in a novel, those over 70 are “elderly” or “still sharp,” said with an implied tone of amazement and the realization the condition is temporary.
If you join a running group at age 75, people half your age are shocked you can keep up with them. In a recent age dependent award ceremony at a foot race, the emcee kidded, “Hey, someone check their IDs.” Of course, he was issuing a compliment, but it was one based on the expectation of what old is. Now that I’ve gotten a bit slower, some running buddies say they want to be like me when they grow up. Why do they think I’ve grown up?
How often does the description of an individual include the phrase “of a certain age?” I’m pretty sure everyone’s age is “certain,” but of course it means “old” in this context.
So what is old?
A number usually answers the question. But what number?
Well, it depends on the years you have on you at the time. A five-year-old considers a teenager ancient. In the sixties anyone over 30 was known to be out of touch and could not be trusted. If you reach 60, questions abound about your retirement plans.
As one progresses along the age timeline, markers reinforce the advancement of life. Students who used to think of you as “hip” start calling you “sir.” I perhaps don’t help by describing to them the conversations Pythagoras and I shared. Businesses that believe older people are loaded with money offer enhancements to attract your patronage, such as senior movie discounts and early bird specials at restaurants, the latter because supposedly the older set has to get to bed early. Correspondence and publications appear with the four capital letters A, A, R and P on them. Warnings flash reminding you to sign up for Social Security on time or you’ll lose benefits.
Today is not 50 years ago, or even 20. If we can get used to an internet of infinite resources; a tiny box that provides access to games, driving instructions, dictionaries, and, oh yes, incidentally permits phone calls; and the possibility of self-driving cars, is it such a stretch to think people previously thought of as “old” can actually have a fulfilling and interesting life?
Oh, indeed the aches are more frequent. Entering and exiting cars no longer occurs with dexterity. More and more often a familiar name eludes, or a room is entered for a reason suddenly absent. Doctors of an amazing variety play increasing roles. Small bottles with phrases such as “2 per day,” “40 mg,” and “take with food” proliferate.
However, be on the lookout for more and more at advanced ages executing a three-mile constitutional, or working out at the gym, or swimming laps for an hour.
Realize how many keep their minds active by playing card games, working crossword puzzles, solving Sudoku puzzles—or doing mathematics.
A sometimes wise man once said to me, “If you want to know what old is, it’s a person with 10 more years of age than you.” That’s worked for me for most of my life.
As the problems of age creep up, I like to think the following: If things in my life could stay exactly as they are now, I would be content.