Knowing how to get old is confusing. There seems to be a lot of loss involved. Maybe we can work with that.
The whole read
For quite a long while getting old seemed mostly like a transition in fashion and hairstyle…the age when you start wearing housedresses and go to the beauty parlor to get your old lady curls set for the week. My young view of aging was entirely external. I could only picture it from the outside because what it would feel like on the inside was beyond anything I had access to. In time, though, age began to creep into my awareness in a way that initiated a more internal reckoning. I can even track the progression.
The long ride down
About 30 years ago a mysterious shard of glass invisibly embedded itself in my thumb. It hurt when pressed, weeping blood from no visible break in the skin. The hand surgeon gave me a choice: remove the glass or just, you know, avoid pressure to my thumb. I was dumbstruck. I was 30 years old! If I started tossing body parts out now, what would I be left with when I got to 80?
About 15 years ago I met a woman who was 45, just like me. She allowed herself to run five miles a day, never more. She was firm on that, believing that our joints are like tires; you could only get so many miles out of them. She wanted to enjoy running for as long as possible and so she was pacing herself. Accurate or not in her theory of mileage, she was a person who could imagine knees with no tread left which was eye opening to me.
About 10 years ago a friend who had 5 or 6 years on me said she couldn’t get up off the floor without grabbing onto a coffee table or a chair for hoisting power. She was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone seeing her do it. While I had no trouble yet in that way myself, I was also no longer completely without reference for what it might someday be like. What I hadn’t thought about, however, was the embarrassment, a new and unnerving layer.
About 5 years ago I started wondering if it was unseemly for me to still be wearing low-rise jeans. It was a good question, followed quickly by a terrible one: how do you know when you’re too old? Adding to the problem was this: I didn’t know how to do it, how to transition. I couldn’t imagine buying mom jeans so in the end I just kept wearing the same ones.
About 2 months ago I had a realization that stopped me cold: I was too tired to outrun my exuberant anxiety. I just didn’t have the energy to get as much done and go as fast as my anxiety expected of me. I’d never thought about anxiety being a young person’s game. “Wow,” I thought. “Getting old. This is really happening.”
On the way back up
From this vantage point, aging is beginning to feel to like the long ride down, a steady shedding of pieces of our wardrobe and ourselves. There are cruelties to the loss, I see it in my parents and feel the quickening in myself. But maybe dropping these pieces is how we learn to ascend, getting lighter and lighter as we go.
Note: The photo is not me but kind of aspirational. There’s something about that lady that makes being old look fun.