Sunday, January 5, 2014

Old Enough

I have friends ten to twenty years my junior who seem obsessed with age. They are the ones who send emails containing cartoons and jokes and other pieces that bemoan and belittle and seem to believe the myth of aging and that they are old. None, so far as I know, are crippled by diseases of age, or have lost their memory, or require round-the-clock assistance to live their daily lives. And I wonder.

I wonder what seems so attractive to people about aging and about being “old” the way we thought of old people when I was a teenager, for instance. We saw “old folks” as limited in movement, forgetful, amusing others with tales of looking for lost glasses that were perched atop the head, and forgetting where they parked the car, or even if they had parked the car. They were always wizened, or corpulent beyond the limit imposed by ready-made clothing or full of food that could be eaten without teeth. Perhaps that is what drove us to reject aging in the first place.

And of course science and knowledge and the glimpse of a worthwhile future have improved the looks, if not the intelligence that match the happy old couple, secure in their cured erectile-dysfunction-future, laughing and romping with (one supposes) great grandchildren as the sun slowly sets and the romantic moon rises over the pristine lake that fronts the old folks’ condo.

It ain’t so. Nor is it funny. We seem to be following two masters (or mistresses in today’s “we’re all alike under the skin” world - - - which we aren’t, of course): one is the idea that old folks shouldn’t be admitted to the world of activity and growth. The other is that you can still run five miles without your bones turning to splinters or (more importantly) you are open to knew ideas or changing points of view.

Frankly, I only think about my age when I would rather be doing something other than what I think I must do, because, after all, I’m not some kid with a future to make. I’m this old guy who should be able to stop worrying about tomorrow and focus on today. And sometimes I just put the chain saw down, shut down the log splitter, put the truck back in the barn and go have another cup of coffee.

Perhaps the real issue is finding that as we age we move from being truly productive, and instead find that we have time on our hands; time that isn’t being put to good use. Most of us, at least in my generation, were brought up believing that “idle hands are the devil’s playground,” or some such homily that propounds the “dignity of labor.” I’ll not deny that I have very strong feelings about being useful and productive and at work at something. It is almost as if I must earn the right to live, to be a part of civilization. There isn’t anything more rewarding to me than taking on a task that needs to be done, figuring out what that means, finding and applying the solution and resolving the problem. Sometimes the pleasure comes in just identifying the problem and knowing when I need someone with more knowledge or skill to do the work. That isn’t a function of age, except that age should bring wisdom, and knowing when a job is beyond my skill level is, I believe, definitely an indication of wisdom.

What it comes down to is this: experience should provide the bed on which you lay your head, resting in the certainty that you are still part of the living. If you can do that, it’s okay to take a nap now and then, but you shouldn’t sleep the clock around.

You are only old when you think you are.

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