It’s an old story, the one entitled: Youth is Wasted on the Young. But seriously, how true is that? I remember having some fun times while I was young. I was more fearless, more fashionable and much more flexible. Not knowing what to expect in every situation was thrilling. The future was ahead, the past was barely there and quite inconsequential. You knew everything you needed to know. And although you actually understood nothing, you didn’t realize it and went boldly forward, unfettered, self-confident, and utterly oblivious.
Is wisdom all it’s cracked up to be? For that is the sole gift of aging. You know better, so you do less because you know better. Wisdom dictates this. You see all the shades of grey so there’s no longer the thrill of stark contrast – the zeal of a black hat / white hat world. And while you scoff at your younger self for your naiveté since it has now become clear everything is fog coloured and a threat, there’s an ache for those times when you were enthusiastic, infatuated, obsessed. This aged you now sees all sides and so can’t take sides. You end up in the back row. The fervour that once lit you up is dulled by the unavoidable awareness that everyone is all things at one time or another. We’re all good. We’re all evil. We’re all going to die.
(Of course, some people are evil in ways I could never understand or contemplate. I just needed to clarify, I don’t understand all evil and never will.)
I suspect aging comes as a surprise to everyone. It did for me. I remember being nine or ten and realizing that I knew more than I ever had in previous years. That this was the oldest I had ever been and I would experience this for the rest of my life. It made me wonder what it will feel like to be twelve or even fifteen. I never wondered about thirty or sixty, I never expected to actually get old.
Today I’m old. And if I’m lucky I’m only going to get older. Yet I find my aging body distasteful, indisputable proof of my vanity. Try as I might, I can’t coax my body to slim down like it was when I was twenty. Too much time is spent looking at the ‘age’ spots that have appeared on my hands (although they remind me of my grandmother which tempers my horror). I loathe the creeping crepe-y skin on my arms. Why do I have to have jowls? Now the real challenge of my life begins – self acceptance as an invisible person.
Or discipline - to encourage a look that will better conform to notions of beauty/value.
Do I live like every day is my last, physical repercussions be damned? Or do I finally buckle down and eat less, move more, and meditate for the strength traditionally required of monks – in short, develop late-in-life discipline and try to beat the physical effects of age? You might suggest why not all-of-the-above? Which brings us back to aging and one of its really irritating aspects: the slow and steady calcification that happens without your noticing. Making any changes in life or routine is so much harder when you’re old. Habits are so much more embedded. All the grey around you coaxes a kind of attitude of, “hey I’m old, don’t bother me. I’m allowed.” "So what if I don’t party till dawn? I prefer to wake up at dawn." "I don’t love my larger body, but my husband does, so who’s really being hurt by it?" And each day I'm lucky enough to wake up, I have an opportunity to take a different path. I’ve started to move more because it makes me feel better. I still need to find my way toward eating less yet I do truly enjoy all the food I eat. I’m writing this and it has given me a window into what else I might discover with words, I feel a new adventure coming on.
So, if you’re younger than 63, perhaps I can offer you a little of my unwanted wisdom. You are going to get older. If you’re lucky. Consider developing good habits now. Take care of your body, don’t let regret take you down. Practice whatever form of self-respect works best for you so that it is second nature when you become visibly older. You’ll be better able to deal with it. Trust me.