On a hot afternoon earlier this month, I played golf with my 31-year-old son. We walked the course as we’ve done over the two decades we’ve played together. He carried his clubs and I pushed mine in a hand-cart. I didn’t drink as much water as I should and so, by the sixth or seventh hole, I felt so depleted that I wondered if I could finish the front nine. ‘What was going on,’ I thought as I struggled up and down the gentle grades of the course. I walk every morning between two and a half and four miles, but this trek felt beyond arduous. It took me three days to recover. Yes, it was hot and I didn’t drink (I will the next time), but I’m also 71 years old and I was feeling it. I told David that this round was the last in which I would walk the course. I’m riding in a cart from now on.
I’ve noticed other things too about getting older. I have difficulty getting up off the floor after playing with our two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter. At times, I can’t remember the names of books and their authors, films and their screenwriters, casts, and directors that I’ve just read and seen. My hair is grayer now and starting to turn white like my mother’s and all her nine siblings when they reached my age. I doze midday after reading five to ten pages of even the most compelling novel or mystery. I’m tired earlier each evening no matter what I do during the day. By nine pm I’m ready for sleep. I still think and feel like I’m a forty or fifty-year-old, but the above tells me otherwise. When I was my grown sons’ ages, I can’t recall seeing doctors except a dentist every six months or so. Now my list of physicians is substantial.
I’ve come to regard myself as a used 1949 Chevy, a good solid car in its day, but like all old cars things break, need repair and new parts. Why should I be so surprised that the same thing happens to us as we age?
A friend once quipped “Getting old sucks! Not getting old sucks more!” True enough and I’ll happily take as many years as I can get.
I read the obituaries now more than I used to both because people’s lives fascinate me and I’m curious about others’ longevity. My father lived 53 years and all my grandparents except one died by 60. My mother was the exception. She lived to 98. Medical advances suggest that so many of us likely will live longer than those in earlier generations.
Accepting the truth that I’m aging has been a preoccupation for me over the past decade or so. At times, I deny that it’s happening and dismiss the aches and pains as just having a bad day. Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I wish I minded less.
There’s no magic pill to reverse what happens to us. We can slow the effects somewhat if we eat right, exercise daily, keep our weight down, get enough sleep, stay engaged with people and things that matter, remain productive, and see doctors regularly and especially if something feels wrong (without becoming a hypochondriac).
I consider myself a fairly empathic person which enabled me to engage effectively, I like to think, in my former people-intensive vocation. But, until I experienced something personally, empathy only took me so far. Experience is our greatest teacher. Isn’t it? We can read about the truths of aging, but until we grow older ourselves, we don’t really understand it.
A big part of life, should we live into old age, is about accepting the variety of loss we inevitably endure — the illness and death of loved ones and friends, getting sick ourselves, physical incapacity, and diminished mental and physical strength and stamina. Acceptance, thankfully, has ancillary benefits — learning the new emotions that time and events bring and gaining wisdom and perspective from them.
Virginia Woolf wrote in her novel Mrs. Dalloway:
“The compensation of growing old…was simply this, that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained — at last! — The power which adds the supreme flavour to existence — the powers of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly, in the light.”
I count my blessings every day — my wife, children, and granddaughter most of all, my brother and dear friends too, generally good health, a home I love, enough income so I don’t worry, and the capacity to do most of what I wish to do. Riding in a golf cart instead of walking isn’t much of a sacrifice because still, I get to spend four or more hours of uninterrupted time with my son. I’ll continue to do that as long as I can swing a club.