One of the things that has irritated me about getting older (besides getting an AARP application in the mail) is that nobody has said definitively how it feels to grow old.
Oh, poets have taken a shot at it a few times over the centuries, but their comparisons to “changing seasons” and the “rise and fall of empires” don’t quite cut it, you know?
Some say getting older is the worst thing that can happen, and others say it’s best thing in the world. The truth is both of them are lying.
So I will try to fill that void and tell what it’s like to get older. First of all, no mater what the calendar says or what the mirror tells you, inside your head and your heart you will feel like you’re 21. Maybe 22. And these days of boredom, confusion, awkwardness and frustration will become your “good old days.”
You find yourself remembering how things used to be and thinking “things were better back then.” Things weren’t better, but you will feel they were and your feelings about the past become very important to you as you get older.
You will begin to realize that you know A LOT of stuff, more than you thought you knew when you were young. In fact, you will realize that you were an idiot when you were young because all the stuff you thought you knew then doesn’t compare to all the stuff you think you know now.
Events that make your blood boil today will seem hardly worth a yawn when you’re older. A religious leader embroiled in a sex scandal? Yeah, I’ve seen that movie before. An elected official accused of taking a bribe? I thought he ran on the bribery ticket. A corporate fat cat caught stealing profits? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
It’s not that you’re jaded or cynical. You’re old. You’ve seen it before. The guy who said there’s nothing new under the sun knew what he was talking about — because he was old.
When you’re young, people who are older than you seem stupid because they never want to have any fun. When you’re older, people who are younger than you seem stupid because all they want to do is have fun. Between the two, the people who are younger than you are most annoying because they think they know everything. And they can outrun you.
As you get older, your body becomes capable of mind-boggling feats: All of your joints — including those in your toes — can creak and crack when you stand up, bend over or in other way, move. You can sneeze and throw out your back. You have to read a magazine at arm’s length. Parts of your body hurt for no apparent reason.
You will be surprised by your first gray hair. That first gray hair catches everybody by surprise because it comes along when you’re still young. Of course, you will pluck that first gray hair — and you will be surprised when it returns, with friends.
People respond to you differently as you get older — especially younger people. You might become confused when someone addresses you as “ma’am” or “sir.” Younger people will suddenly “straighten up” when you are around and sometimes ask you for advice.
And no matter how much money you have, how much power you wield or how contemporary you are in your tastes, young people will use “old” as the final adjective to describe you, as in “that rich old guy” or “that powerful old man” or “that cool old dude.”
You will begin to read the obituaries of people who are about your age, and you will compare your life to theirs and begin to wonder how much time you’ve got left to turn things around.
If you have children, you will begin to notice how, in their tastes and attitudes, they resemble your parents. You will hear yourself say things to your kids that you hated when your parents said them to you. (“Because I said so” works and is very satisfying.)
And everything you thought was cool, fun and worthwhile is now a punch line or part of some new “retro” craze.
Getting older isn’t the best or the worst thing in the world. It’s just what happens before you die. Considering the alternative, I think I’ll keep giving this getting old thing a go.