Considering a Trip into Old Age?

12 tips for taking that ungraceful trip as gracefully as possible.

Posted Jun 09, 2018

Note to self on my 62nd birthday. 

It’s a one-way trip: You can’t reverse aging for long and there’s no coming back as your younger self. If there is an afterlife (which I doubt) it’s as good as being born a different person. Live each lifetime as if it’s your last.

It rarely ends well: Death is for losers. Trouble is we all are losers in the end. Sometimes in fiction and occasionally in real life, there’s a grand swell of background music, appreciation, honor, tributes, and glory at the painful, disappointing end of a long and productive life. But mostly, it’s painful and disappointing. Take comfort from the fact that we’re all losers in the end. It means you weren’t singled out. And it’s much better than the alternative. If aging is a bummer, dying young is much more of a bummer.

Get gradually shorter glasses: If you were lucky when young, your glass was often full. As you age, it drains. It’s good to figure out how to refill it with something reliable, but one way or another you’re going to have to transition between now and 90 to where your day counts as productive if you’ve had a good bowel movement. Lower your expectations. Gradually. Try to keep up by getting a shorter glass so what you’ve got left to fill it still feels full enough. 

Expect to exaggerate how old or young you are: There’s a growth spurt in our teens and then reverse spurt in our 60s, rapid changes that are hard to track. In both periods you’ll over- and under-estimate your state. Teens and their parents often mistake them for both less mature and more mature than they really are. Aging people often mistake themselves for both older or younger than they really are. Expect to not be able to pinpoint your agedness very accurately during this transition. You're chasing a moving target and so are bound to overshoot, thinking you're older or younger than you are. 

Learn the lessons only aging teaches: For example, it turns out our bodies weren’t the indicators of much. If you’re homely or handicapped young, you get this lesson earlier. If you’re gorgeous and able young, the message is waiting for you as you age. Funny thing about physical beauty. It impresses us as eternal. Yet nothing is so perishable. It’s like believing that a flower in bloom will stay in bloom forever when obviously it won’t. 

Find sustainable sources of mojo: Many, but not all of our most rewarding pursuits have short shelf lives. Look for a few that you can sustain until the end or close to it. For me, there’s thinking, writing and playing music. I could lose the ability to do them but not as likely as losing the ability to skydive, model, play football or take heroin. Some pursuits age you, some are hard to do when you’re old and some you can do ‘til the end of your days. Find a few of the latter.

The audience owes you nothing: Some people assume self-servingly that age alone entitles them to talk with authority as sages. People ought to listen to you because you’re old and therefore automatically wise. Not so, at least in our culture and not just because the young are ungrateful. Primarily because the world is changing fast. What worked for you may well not work for current generations. Do not expect that you can replace your past glory with ready audiences listening to you go on and on about your past glories. 

Live today, not for a glorious funeral: When I was young I thought I should live for looking back on my life as glorious. Around 40, I realized that as an old guy my memory will be distorted, by age if not senility. If I end up bitter, I’ll selectively remember what didn’t work. If I end up cheerful, I’ll selectively remember what did. And my memorial? I like to keep in mind how short it is by meditating on the parking lot people will return to after it’s over, getting on with their lives. And anyway I’ll be previously engaged and so will miss my funeral. Better to live a good life by my living standards than by my final standards.

Glory in having had your day in the sun: Glorious days in the sun can become the manner to which you are accustomed always expecting more. If you were a star, you are likely to expect to continue to be one. That can make you a tedious old person, past your prime but still expecting the glory. There’s an alternative that makes for more graceful aging. If you got your days in the sun, count your lucky stars. Many don’t even get that. Let those days be a substitute for future days in the sun. 

Get good at being alone: I’m grateful that my need for appreciation is in decline, most notably, not needing a partner anymore. I wasn’t always like this. I used to feel an aching hollowness without one. I used to look with dread and aversion at dowdy oldsters sitting alone. Now I am one and it turns out to be not bad from the inside. It took a while to learn to prefer my own company to bad company. I’m glad to see that now, I prefer my own company plenty, whether there’s other good company or not. I love the company I get but it comes and goes. I make friends fast. I don’t worry about total isolation. Maybe that’s why it feels safe to be alone with my thoughts, dreams and nightmares. I hope that feeling of safety lasts until the end of my days. Maybe it won’t. I’m glad for now, that my expectations of appreciation are keeping up. I’m glad, for example that my lack of appetite for romance is finally catching up my lack of aptitude for making it happen. Better that than being a dirty old man lusting for what’s no longer in the cards. I’m glad too that I get to log some years at the end appreciating people without the distracting ulterior motive about who I can get to climb on board to appreciate me. 

It’s a gamble no matter how you slice it: Being single and old entails some risk. What if I get sick and have no one to care for me? What if terror at being alone returns? Being married and old entails some risk too. What if my partner drives me crazy or ends up with Alzheimer’s consuming my savings and last years, me dying alone after she dies. Or whatever other of the many miserable scare-narios. Life is non-stop gambles that get more dire and daring as we become more fragile with age. Bet well, but know that no matter how well you bet it could still turn out badly.

Meditate youthfully on aging and dying: I’m chronophobic (time-fearing) and chronophilic (time loving). I think time is astonishing, scary and wonderful. I’m often told I maintain my youthful spirit. I’m sometimes told I look younger than my years. Believing such flattery is a sign of senility. Even if I do look younger than my years (which I doubt) I’ll do so for a matter of a few more months. Still, I do feel like I’m still about 20 even though I recognize that I’m not. I try to keep up with the youth. I recognize that it’s dangerous and obnoxious to glory in my now-antique epiphanies. All epiphanies age, and most don’t age well. So young at heart? Yes. And how? By keeping age in mind. I’ve memorized poems about aging. They somehow keep me feeling young, yet urgent, perhaps through a kind of ironic inurement. Meditate on anything dreadful long enough and you’ll eventually transition to nervous laughter about it and then to easy laughter. My father (dear soul died at 59) was a good role model for this. He was a pistol until the end. He too memorized poems about aging and dying. And he used to say “You know I haven’t lived my life in vain for nothing.”