Saturday, March 16, 2013

The boy who cried wolf

While I sit around feeling sad, my mind is busy. Busy, busy, creating theories. Oh I love me a good theory, don't you know?

One hundred years ago, the average life span was 50. Many people lived longer, but many also died younger than that. People didn't expect to live on and on as we do now. One hundred years ago, by the time a person turned 30, they made sure they were married, had their kids. By 40, they were rapidly aging and by 50, they were old.

The greatest generation had no idea they would live as long as many of them have. I hope it won't offend anyone who knows lots of 80 and 90 year olds when I say many of that generation have lived past their expiration dates, due to modern medicine. It's good and not so good.

When I approached age 30, I felt some trepidation. As teenagers our motto was Don't trust anyone over thirty. But then I turned 30 and it was nothing.

As I approached 40, I thought, Maybe this is the turning point. After all, one generation before us, Jack Benny's enduring joke was that he would stay 39 forever, because, he said, "there's nothing funny about age 40."

When I turned 40, just like age 30, it was nothing. From 20 to 50, the process of aging was discrete. Of course I aged, but with the high quality food we eat now and great medical care, both modern and "alternative" (great marketing term for modern medicine), also because I don't smoke and have always been active, I stayed in great shape. And I'm not the only one. My contemporaries enjoyed the same expereince.

When I turned 50, I celebrated. Why not? It felt like I had dodged the bullet and would live on, forever young. But during the 50s, aging accelerated. Especially after age 55. Gravity is having its way with me, oh yeah.

At 60, here I am, understanding at last, at a visceral level, that I will die. I can feel it. I will die. What I'm talking about is not the rational thought that life is fleeting and all of us are mortal, it's a sense in my bones and blood that I will pass away.

I can honestly say I have never feared death. Do I fear it now that I can feel its inevitability? I'm asking myself, not sure of the answer yet. One thing I can say for sure is I am not looking forward to whatever it is that will take me down.

Life is, as the Buddhists say, a precious existence. Sometimes I think we have to suffer terribly before we die before we're convinced it's OK to let go. Is that a dark thought? I hope not.

I have a busy work week ahead, a very good thing, I think. When I work, sadness becomes compassion. This knowing, in my blood, that I'm mortal, helps me be kind to my clients, a really nice thing, hey?

L'chaim, y'all. Shalom.


ellen abbott said...

yes, the body begins to break down in the 50s. that's when my thyroid went wacky and I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and then my cholesterol went up. but as far as ailments go I guess I'm lucky. as you say, good food and staying active have helped keep me in good shape but no one avoids the eventual deterioration. I hope my body and mind go together. the only thing I fear about death is that my mind will go before the body gives up. but no, I don't fear death. I'm not ready at nearly 63 but I don't fear it.

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm not ready either. Glad you plan to stick around awhile.

Pam said...

Reya, you may think this strange but at 60 I'm ready!!
I'd see it as an escape card from the possibility of undignified dependence in old age. When heart surgeon was discussing serious risks of approaching surgery with my husband (he was only 55 at the time) we both explained we had no fear of death - we'd experienced a good family, travelled the world, lived a good and simple life. He was amazed and amused saying it's rare to come across an attitude like that. It comes down to the avoidance of long-term suffering and the indignity of loss of body functions I think.
My daughter is not amused by this attitude, but she knows we don't want the long slow death scenario- and I've certainly seem too many oldies in my life (particularly laying mostly unconscious and incontinent)in nursing homes, where expiration far beyond the use-by date is painful to see, particularly the effects of dementia.
No, I figure just enjoy life and hope for a quick exit before the shit hits the fan,...or the padded 'pull-ups' for that matter!...and the deterioration thing? Without it birthday card manufacturers would go out of business, and there'd be no whacky weak punchlines - aint no escape!

Steve Reed said...

How funny -- I was just writing about how turning 40 wasn't such a big deal to me. I guess I still have bigger milestones to come!

Perhaps it isn't a negative thing to be reminded of mortality. Perhaps it helps us treasure life all the more. I wonder if there's a way to reconsider your reaction to that reminder -- to take the sadness and turn it into appreciation, maybe? Not to turn away from it, though -- you should always just feel what you feel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It's helpful to know how others deal with this aging thing. I'm not yet 55, yet I can sense the body tiring and slowing down. The list of things I once thought I'd be able to do forever but can no longer accomplish is growing longer. And even weirder, the things I once enjoyed, like traveling rough, I don't even want to do anymore. It's like I'm having to part ways with that person I once was, and greet this stranger I have become. Hope I can dredge up some grace with which to welcome my new self.