I am approaching my 68th birthday. Each time I think of that I start to say that I am old. Then something will happen that makes me think that I’m not old. So I started to think about the concept of what is old and what is not old. I thought I would start this thought for today with the story I was told some years ago.
There were two men sitting on a bench at the park, both watching the children play and commenting on the people that passed by. The conversation started out about how amazing it was that the children had so much energy. The older man then stated that he could not remember being so young. The younger man then asked the older man his age. He said he was about to turn 85 years old. The younger man then quickly stated that he did not think he would want to live to be 85 years old. Instead of being insulted by the young man’s comment, the older man just looked at the young man and smiled. The older man stated that he felt the same way until he turned 84 years old.
That story reminds me that the term old is relevant in the eyes of the beholder. The issue of old starts even when you are just a small child. It starts with the goals of being old enough to walk and then old enough to go to school. Your birthday would determine what year you would start school or what grade you should be in by a certain age. If your family had you enrolled in sports, your age would determine which league you would play in. For me, I could not wait to be 15 and a half. At that age I could go through the driver’s training program at school and get a learner’s permit to drive a car. The next milestone was to be 18 so that I could vote in the election. The next age of importance was 21 so that I could legally go and purchase alcohol.
It is after the age of 21 that the milestones went from being something of a positive thought to something that I did not look forward to. For example many of you, when you’re 21, thought that the age of 30 would be the age of the start of your decline. I know I thought that I should be a millionaire by the time I was 30 years old or I would be a failure. In my memory, I was somewhat invisible in my 20s. I was old enough to know better but young enough to still try anyway. Most people in their 20s are still searching for what their career would be. Additionally, somewhere in the 20s people end up of getting married and starting a family.
It seemed to me like my 30s were so full of life’s experiences that the whole decade was just a blur. It was when I was about to turn 40 that I started to experience my midlife crisis. For some reason, I felt that I should be in great physical shape and wanted to look younger. It was during my 40s that I ran several marathons, joined a gym, and worked on being tan. It was also the first time that I started thinking about retirement and what I would do next.
Just saying the word retirement, made me envision being old. The only thing I had seen with the word retirement in it was a retirement home. A place for people in wheelchairs and walkers to spend their day talking to nurses and helpers about what life as it was like back in the day.
Fortunately for me, I went back to work at another job. In my 40s and my 50s I felt secure that my age was not a factor in anything that I did. Instead of calling me old, my coworkers called me experienced. I liked the word seasoned veteran. My hair still was brown along with my beard and mustache. My waistline had grown a bit but I was still able to participate in sports and physical activities.
It was when I was in my 50s that I started to realize that I had reached an age that society described as old. At the age of 55 I got my AARP invitation to join. Places like the house of pancakes would give me a senior citizen discount at the age of 55. I received a letter from the Social Security people informing me about my benefits which I could receive in just a few years.
I just didn’t feel like I was old, my children were raising their own children and the title of grandpa or pops seemed okay to hear as they greeted me. But as I looked in the mirror I watched my brown hair turn to gray hair. By the time I was 60 years old, I was contemplating actually being retired. I began to feel really guilty about not working, but my mind kept telling me it was time to retire. In some sort of effort to fight the feeling of getting old I grew my hair out to be almost to the middle of my back. I don’t know why I thought this would make me feel younger, but in reality my hair was long and gray and becoming very thin almost like cotton candy. I could remember making fun of the senior citizens whose hair had turned so thin.
All of a sudden I was feeling like an ancient old man. Not because of my health but because of all those factors that I had believed in my youth about what getting old should look like. There was that older looking face staring back at me from my mirror. I did not feel that I had physically slowed down nor that I was ready to go to the retirement home and move from point to point in a walker. Luckily for me, my health led me to going to the Veterans Administration Hospital. I had prostate cancer, a cancer that many men will have as they grow older. So I started out with poor me I have to go to the hospital.
The blessing in this is that when I got to the hospital I was surrounded by hundreds of men who were truly in bad shape. Even though many of them were my age and maybe a little younger, I would look out in the waiting room at all of the people waiting for the doctors to see them. It was almost like a light bulb went off, I felt like a spring chicken. I even felt a little guilty about going to the doctor, I knew that prostate cancer was nothing to sneeze at and so I continued. But each time that I went to the VA or even when I went to see my private practice doctor I would look around the waiting room. Usually there were many people of my generation in all kinds of disrepair. I realize that my generation will probably dominate the waiting rooms of the hospitals for another decade or so. The baby boom generation created a lot of people who have gotten older and need help.
So it is very refreshing when I run across a man who is many years my senior and is healthy and living a good life. One of those people is a guy named Frank from Sacramento California. Frank is in his early 90s and he is mentally sharp and physically able. He is always proud to let you know that his wife is 30 years younger than him. I also met Mr. Ford from Conroe Texas, a ninety-year-old man who was working the county fair with me. He was healthy and active. He wore Western wear clothing that was pressed clean and made him look sharp. There was also the neighbor of one of my sons in Arkansas who is my age and looked great and was very active. His name was Dave and he seemed to be a very busy and happy man.
This brings me back to the thought of age. I had a negative view of age until I became that age. I feel great I’m able to enjoy my family and my life. I can’t honestly say that I’m looking forward to being 70 years old, but it is all a lot better than the alternative.
I think for the next decade the generation that I came from, the baby boomers, will dominate the waiting rooms of the doctor’s offices and hospitals. And of course like all people as they’re getting older, I’m hopeful that they will find cures for such things as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
I am enjoying my age but I would not be honest if I did not tell you that I wish I was a little younger. I think the only way I can be a little younger is by enjoying my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. I also enjoy watching my nieces and nephews as they go from their 20s into their 30s and their families are growing.
So how old is old. Old is relative to where you’re at in life. Maybe you’re not old enough to go to the first grade yet. Maybe you’re too old to be playing in the little League baseball league. Maybe you’re not old enough to drive yet. Maybe you’re too old to still be living with your parents in their house. Maybe you’re not old enough to enjoy the thought of having a child. Or maybe your age is a factor in even thinking of having a child. Maybe you’re too old to go out dancing at a club. Maybe you’re not old enough to retire, even if you could afford to do so.
I don’t think age has a factor when it comes to falling in love, I don’t think you’re ever too old to have hope or to give someone hope. I don’t think age is a factor that should keep you from smiling or laughing. I don’t think age should stop you from trying new things or giving up old habits. I don’t think old is a deciding factor in how people should look at you. I think old is a factor in allowing you to do certain things like drive a car or cast a vote.
How old is old, as old as you want make it.