I realized I was definitely getting older when my nasolabial folds started resembling crevasses so deep that my nose became an afterthought. Older, in my mind, did not mean old, although the distinction may be suspect. Being older only made me realize that I wanted to live a lot longer. Perhaps not as long as Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived past the age of 122, recently profiled in the New Yorker. But longer! Wondering if there was anything I could do to postpone my eventual demise beyond avoiding refined sugar and exercising every day, I flirted with certain cryonic alternatives but that seemed more on the road to denial than acceptance of the inevitable. Having my head floating in a tank of liquid nitrogen seemed an unattractive way to meet one’s maker, if there was, in fact, one to meet.
The potential ravages of older age continue to drive me to the slippery edge of hypochondria. I find myself constantly scanning my body for the slightest aberration, running to my copy of the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, now horribly dog-eared, at the slightest twinge, twitch, or ache. I just don’t want to be shocked or surprised if something is wrong. I definitely want to avoid a doctor somberly telling me I have some disorder or disease. That might explain why I keep putting off my “yearly” check-up until my wife read me the riot act. Even then, I mastered the art of passive-aggressive behavior such that she grudgingly accepts that these visits are likely biennial.
I am particularly relishing sleep, reveling in dreams full of adventure, enticing relationships, and memories of things long forgotten. They are so pleasurable and intense, especially the nocturnal penile tumescence (i.e., erections), that I often wake up and wonder if it was a dream or real life, or wishing it was the latter. The distinction between the two feels a bit tenuous, at times. As a result, I am staying in bed longer, my sleep extending to eight o’clock, then 9, and now beyond. My wife has begun violently vacuuming every morning in an effort to rouse me. Never apologetic, she simply says: “It’s time to rise and shine.” I’m not so sure.
One night in my office, I was washing my coffee cup and left it in the sink with the hot water running while I tidied up. Returning a few seconds later, I could not figure out how to shut off the water. Flummoxed, I considered buzzing the super and asking him to come up but that seemed excessively humiliating. Calling my wife was an option but what could she do anyway? Panic turned into hysteria and then pure terror. I stood staring at the running water, motionless, frozen. The thought flashed through my mind that, perhaps, this was early-onset Alzheimer’s. But, guided by some unknown force in the universe, my hand groped for the handle and pushed it backwards, towards the wall, and voila! the water stopped. It dawned on me that, over the weekend, the building handymen had replaced the older handles and faucets with fancy new ones. (I must have missed the memo.) Experiencing, for a brief moment, what it feels like not to be able to perform a simple, everyday task is not something I needed to know, although it might come in handy in the future.
In this day of the coronavirus, I have a sulfurous bone to pick with the media, especially their so-called reassuring early headlines that the disease mostly affected the elderly. While technically falling into that category, I flat-out resent the term, which smacks of deterioration or debilitation. It contradicts my sense of self as a spry stallion frolicking in the urbanized pastures of the city. Perhaps new nomenclature is needed. Elderly might be replaced by “wiserly” (as in “wise elder”) or stay with the bland “seniors” or, damn it, just say “older” and it leave it at that.
So, what is older age good for? It can’t be, as Woody Allen described it, that as “you get older you get more and more frightened because the terrible indignities of old age become closer to you.” I am more up for Erik Erickson’s view, describing it as the eighth stage of psychosocial development, one pitting ego integrity vs. despair; it’s a stage where one can experience a sense of coherence and wholeness. While that’s something to strive for, there are certain pleasures that should not be underestimated, like having a slice of pizza now and again, giving a bedraggled taxi driver a huge tip, or marveling at the wondrous species on Planet Earth documentaries. Most importantly, older age brings with it an enhanced perspective on life, leading me to hope that I will see the end of Trumpism before my time is up. What I wouldn’t give for that! A few years of my life? Maybe.
· For Older Age, What Is It Good For? (Part I): https://medium.com/@syzygy33/old-age-what-is-it-good-for-5b80c595a210)
· For Older Age, What Is It Good For (Part II): https://medium.com/@syzygy33/older-age-lemons-or-lemonade-cae6d4f6dc9)