A few weeks ago I had dinner with my 82-year-old mother. In the middle of dinner she blurted out: “When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, I don’t recognize the face staring back at me.”
And, that’s where the story begins.
You Should Be Dead Already
In this country, we are hyper-focused on aging. But, aging is a relatively new phenomenon for us. According to the CDC, the three leading causes of death in the early 1900’s were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea. In fact, diarrhea contributed to one-third of all deaths. Of these deaths, 40% were among children under age 5. So aging wasn’t really a thing, yet. Few people got the luxury of time.
We can often live quite well with conditions that would have killed us fifty years ago. In fact, nearly half of those born in 2021 will live to celebrate their 100th birthdays.
But now that aging is a thing, nobody really wants to do it. Nobody wants to admit that there’s more green grass behind the mower than in front of the mower.
And, that creates opportunity. TV advertising is inundated with all kinds of magic lotions and potions guaranteed to stop or even reverse the aging process.
Research consultancy Euromonitor predicts that $4.2 billion worth of wrinkle-warding products will be sold in the US in 2021, an increase of over 30 percent from 2011.
A man must have grown old and lived long in order to see how short life is.
My mother is in great shape for 82. What she was trying to say is that while we age physically, we don’t really age in our minds. Sure, I have a harder time remembering where I left my keys or where I parked my car. But if you woke me out of a deep sleep and asked my age, I just might tell you I’m 29. Trust me, inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.
But, despite the magic lotions & potions, we cannot really stop the passage of time. Or the impact of gravity and basic wear and tear on our bodies. It’s like trying to nail jello to the wall.
But what if I had a magic wand? What if I could say a few hocus-pocus words and guarantee you will never die?
Like the 1985 movie, Cocoon, starring Wilfred Brimley and Don Ameche. Maybe my favorite movie scene of all time. Click here to watch.
When we get where we’re going, we’ll never be sick, we won’t get any older, and we won’t ever die.
Would you do it? Of course, you would. Because deep down inside we fear death. Even if our faith gives us the promise of everlasting life, there’s still trepidation over what, how or when we will die. Will it be long and drawn out like Steve Jobs? Or, will it be a complete surprise like Kobe Bryant?
Since it’s just you and me talking, let’s unpack this a little more. Maybe we can learn something together.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have inherited some pretty good genes. My people live a good, long while. As a result, I’ve seen aging up close and personal. Some folks aged gracefully into their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. At those ages, it’s not wise to buy green bananas. Others flailed around like a hog on ice, moving from doctor to doctor, becoming more restless and regretful with every passing day. Thinking and rethinking life and trying to re-frame ancient, unwise decisions.
Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.
So let me try this again, are you sure you wanna live forever? Cause while you’d get to see your children and grandchildren grow up to become adults, do you really wanna watch your children and grandchildren age and die? I don’t. Cause while I can waive the magic wand over your head and grant your eternal wish, I simply cannot stop the passing of time.
Time waits for no man.
Ancient Proverb (unknown origin)
So the bigger question is why would you wanna live forever?
I can tell you that some parts of aging stink. But, we tend to fear it way more than is necessary. For me, the first 50 years went by faster than a knife fight in a phone booth.
But, I wouldn’t go backward for anything. My fifties are better than my forties. And, you can have the 30’s. All those diapers and all that career anxiety.
For God sake, would anyone choose to be in their teens or twenties right now? Just watch one episode of Emily in Paris. Emily’s life is a digital plethora of Instagram-worthy selfies and likes. Which makes me wonder if Emily ever bothered to actually enjoy the Eiffel Tower or The Louvre. Or maybe they were just nice backdrops for her selfies.
Hard pass. I wrote about these poor kids a few weeks ago in a story called The Screenager Generation. The kids aren’t even getting driver’s licenses any more.
At 50 things are still pretty good. I can still see (and touch) my toes. And I can wear my high-school prom tuxedo. (Hey, it’s not bragging if you can do it.)
I have more discretionary income, a great family and a happy life.
In fact, at no time in my 50 years have I sat jonesing to be a part of a younger cohort.
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that everything, I mean everything, is unpredictable. And, none of us really know jack shit about anything. So what if our assumptions about aging are wrong?
According to Dr. Gene Cohen, author of The Mature Mind, “age can bring a new feeling of inner freedom, self-confidence and liberation from social constraints that allow for novel or bold behavior.”
That newfound inner freedom and self-confidence gives us the ability to try new things. Or, perhaps revisit things we simply forgot that we loved. My favorite blogger (and friend), John P. Weiss recently wrote this piece called Make Time for What You Love.
See, I think the old adage is correct. We do get better with age. Like fine wine or Ricardo Montalban’s rich Corinthian leather. But the idea of aging gracefully? Hogwash. I assure you that I am not going gently into that goodnight. I’m gonna pull a George H.W. Bush and jump out of a perfectly good airplane to celebrate my 90th birthday.
Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.
The MidLife Reset
Unlike other periods in history, we got “lucky”. While the Pandemic has sadly brought suffering, illness and death, it has brought a new perspective to all. I wrote about this in a piece called The Great Reordering….back when you were stalking the toilet paper aisle at Publix like H.I. McDunnough with a “panty on your head”.
As Ann Lamott wisely opines, “age has given me what I was looking for my entire life – it gave me, me. It provided the time and experience and failures and triumphs and friends who helped me step into the shape that had been waiting for me all my life.”
See, the benefit we have over those who lived in the early 1900’s isn’t simply more time. No, I think it’s much broader than that. The benefit we get is the time and perspective. The time to learn new skills and discover quiescent talent. The time to get sick and the time to get well. The time to love and the time to grieve. The time to sin and the time to repent. The time to be hurt and the time to forgive. The time to feel joy and the time to feel sorrow. The time to make mistakes and the time to recover.
And those extra years give us the opportunity to do it over and over again until we finally get it right.
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
Walt Whitman Song of Myself
So the next time you look in the mirror and don’t recognize the face staring back at you, just remember this. That you are simply a work in progress. And, that your ancestors didn’t get the benefit of aging at all. They didn’t get the benefit of living into the great answers of life.
Cause at your age they were already dead.
So let’s stop measuring our lives in objective years. Instead, let’s start using the subjective method. And, let’s start thinking of life in terms of how many sunsets you’ve seen, how many people you’ve loved, how many etched memories you’ve created and how many moments that have simply taken your breath away.
Previously Published on tomgreene.com