There is a predatory nature to aging. Marc Fitzerman
I am fortunate to have friends of all ages. The ones who are younger than I am (an increasing percentage at this point in my life!) seem to fret as they approach “significant” birthdays. I am happy to report that my own experience has been that every time of life has been better than those past. It’s not to say that I can run as fast, drink caffeine in the same quantities, or stay up as late as I used to, but the benefits of being older have (so far) outweighed the deficits of what falls away.
I have written before about living longer than parents and grandparents. I have quite a way to go to outlive my mother (who made it almost to 93), but I am well past two grandparents who died in their fifties. At this point, I have nothing to prove in my life, so I can live into my values first and address my needs second – a very pleasant reversal.
But I cannot deny what my friend and colleague Rabbi Marc Fitzerman says: there is a predatory nature to aging. I feel like I am being stalked. And that’s not (only) paranoia speaking. Old age is out to get me.
Of course, it always has been. We are born to die, yet all but a few of us (philosophers, health care providers or the chronically morose) mostly push away the consciousness of it. As younger people we believe ourselves invincible, as young adults we see a perpetual vista, in middle age we discern a horizon. But individually and collectively, there comes a moment when we realize that the faint shadow on the margins of our sunny day has come into focus, wearing a hooded robe and carrying a scythe. And once seen, it cannot be unseen.
I pause for a moment in the midst of this cynical observation to note that death visits plenty of people much earlier than that, unfortunately. Too many younger people succumb to disease, violence or tragedy, and the people who love them are injured by that shadow with a perpetual ache that cannot be relieved. They all wish they could go back to constructive denial.
But collectively we understand that as our eyes grow dim, our hearing fades, our feet are no longer fleet, the one thing that we seem to be more acutely conscious of is the sign we dismissed when some disheveled guy waving it on the street was mistaken for a religious kook: The End Is Near. Or, at least, nearer.
At this point, all I can say is, “Oh.” I look back and recognize how blessed I have been (or, if you prefer, lucky) that I have escaped almost all of the ways the quality and length of my life might have been frustrated. Two of my best friends from high school died young – one before forty and the other in his fifties. One of the best people I ever knew saw his life fall away in pieces before he was robbed of the consciousness to recognize it. And not just others; I see the mistakes and bad judgments that have derailed the respect for and success of people who mostly don’t deserve to be crushed, called out by people no more righteous or accomplished than they are, and I know I dodged a similar fate. I work hard to understand that I am a random beneficiary of this late-life blessing.
I am a long way from welcoming the end of my run, but I am past being sanguine about it. When Marc Fitzerman offered his observation, I am fairly sure he was talking about “aging” as being “getting old,” but there is a predatory nature to aging no matter your age. It’s on public display in child actors, 35-year-old athletes, corporation board members, and the success of pharmacological and technological ways we try to restore our pursuit of beauty and virility.
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly insightful example of human being. I know what seems to work for me. Since I retired, I make a point of smiling every morning before I get out of bed. It is an expression of gratitude. My thankfulness mostly does not last all day, but at least I begin on the right foot. Old age may be out to get me. But it hasn’t gotten me yet.