“The more sand that has escaped through the hourglass of our life,
the clearer we should see through it.”
A big part of aging is coming to see it's not as bad as you thought it was when you were young.
As I thought about how to approach this prompt of aging, a moment in time from 1957 came flowing over me. I was in our family car with Mom, my sister C.J., and a couple neighborhood friends, and we were all headed to Oklahoma’s big semi-centennial celebration in Oklahoma City.
Our state had just turned 50, which seemed so old to me then but now seems so young. Oklahoma was the 46th state to obtain statehood, beating out Arizona and New Mexico by five years, and Alaska and Hawaii by 52 years.
A child’s worry
I was 11 in 1957 and, as we drove toward the celebration, I remember wondering whether I would still be alive when Oklahoma turned 100 in the year (gulp!) 2007. If I were, I thought, I would be 61 and so very old. I shuddered and put the thought out of my mind.
It would turn out that I was still alive in 2007, now sixteen years ago, and I don’t feel all that old. Not only am I still alive today, but yesterday I completed a personal-best 18,140 steps on a 10,000-step daily regimen I began four years ago.
At the end of that feat, I wanted to turn to the 11-year-old Jimmy and say, “The future is not what it used to be, huh kid?”
I have done my best to put off feeling old for a lot of years now, and have pretty much succeeded. I waited until I was 74 to retire from college teaching, but I refuse to retire from writing and have written a couple books and a lot of Retrospect pieces since then.
I exercise now more than I have since college days, and I do it mostly to keep the inner dinosaur at bay. He’s just going to have to wait for his day, and I guess I’ll know when it’s his turn.
Until then, I’ll keep training my mind to stay active by writing, reading, and … of course … doing daily Wordle puzzles. As long as the light is on upstairs, I believe I can handle the body’s eroding foundation downstairs.
A life of grace
In case any of this sounds a bit smug, I don’t mean it to be. I am fully aware I am one of the lucky ones who has managed to escape debilitating illness, injury, and premature death, and I realize that comes by grace and not merit. I have lost count of my friends, loved ones, and classmates who have faced more hardships than I have.
Save for five heart stents and some skin cancer surgeries, I’ve had few health setbacks. To say I’m grateful is a gross understatement.
Finding the plusses
The upside of aging doesn’t get talked about much, taking backseat to the often-heard laments like, “Old age is not for sissies.” The past two or three years, however, have shown me there are a lot of positives to this business of … maturity. Among those benefits are having time to reflect on what I’ve been too busy to enjoy, and chief among these enjoyments are the memories that make up my life … so far.
Retirement has also stripped away most of my reasons for procrastinating about doing things I’ve always wanted to spend more time doing. Things like spending more quality time with the woman I’ve loved for so long, and more time with my guitar late at night in my blue-lit man cave. And, although it has been the substance of my career, I’ve spent more time writing and reading, just for the fun of it.
Living the dream
As I write this I’m sitting out on the patio with my English Setter Blue sprawled beside me on the lounge chair, and my Beagle/Foxhound George lying at my feet. We are all staring at something I’ve always wanted that lies just a few feet in front of us: a backyard lap pool. I eagerly await the 90+ degree days and the guilty pleasure of long daily swims as the dogs race me to the other end of the pool and back.
How bad can aging be if it allows you time to enjoy all this without worrying about what your work schedule says you should be doing instead, and indeed should have done by yesterday?
Surprises that sustain
I realize every day that growing older does not mean that more pleasant surprises don’t lie ahead. I’ve experienced several recently, and I look forward to the next ones. I feel at one with Nick Nolte’s character of Tom Wingo who, late in the film Prince of Tides muses, “It is the mystery of life that sustains me now.”
And I am now old enough to understand and appreciate Albert Einstein’s thought, “I live in that solitude which is painful in youth but delicious in the years of maturity.”
It’s a thought that would have made no sense to me on that summer day in Oklahoma, 1957. But now it means everything.
I am a writer, college professor, and author of several nonfiction books, including three on the decade of the 1960s. Several wonderful essays of gifted Retrospect authors appear in my book, "Daily Life in the 1960s."
Thank you for this lovely story Jim, I share so much of what you’ve described – except of course for the blue-lit man cave!
One is surely gratitude that so far – save for a few surmountable medical issues and minor surgeries – I’m relatively healthy for my age, unlike so many friends who have much more serious problems.
Another is my delight in retirement, as I’m constantly amazed at how busy I am most days.
And thanx for the wonderful Sartre and Einstein quotes, and may the mystery that is life continue to sustain us!
Thank you, Dana, and I’m happy that your health experience has paralleled mine. I admire the courage of those whose bodies have failed them and yet who still feel the wonders that daily life can bring.
What a nice arc of life. And swimming with the dogs is such a delight.!
Thanks, Richard. I do love these dogs!
Your writing reminded me of the guilty pleasures of COVID solitude–of walks in the park with the dog, quiet, the world at bay, the luxury of having enough to enjoy it all. We are given more slack to do what we like as we get older, which is definitely worth taking advantage of.
Absolutely, Khati. Time and the freedom to engage in the simple pleasures are two of the greatest benefits of senior status!
This is an inspiring essay about aging, Jim. While I can’t hold a candle to your exercise routine, I have been doing more than I ever have (thus the recent injury). Like you, I feel pretty lucky to be enjoying life with my husband for almost 55 years. And while we both spend more time doctoring every year, life is pretty good now.
Thank you, Laurie. I probably push my body too much, but I’m aware that my metabolism has slowed so much that I’m just trying to stay even with weight!
I absolutely love the Einstein quote (I must copy it down for later use sometime). As I wrote in my Mother’s Day RetroFlash, I was home alone. Commenters thought I was asking for pity, but not at all! As I explained, there is a difference between being alone and loneliness. I am quite content with the solitude. As one wag said – because I’m such good company!
But as you describe, the pleasures of doing what one wants to do are, indeed, a joy and reward, as we age.
Yes, Betsy. I have found peace in solitude as well. I think the distinction between aloneness and loneliness is a very important one. Hope your week is good!
Well Jim, I’m so happy I’m ending the week on your uplifting story. You seem to have totally captured the joy of aging. Swimming with your loyal friends was my favorite. I can see all three of you in that beautiful bed of water having the time of your lives. Especially when time doesn’t matter.
Hi Patty, and thanks for your comments. You’re right about time not managing that much anymore, and that’s been hard to adjust to for a guy who spent his life on newsroom and classroom deadlines. But I’m getting the hang of it, and my dogs do help!
I should have saved this one for last; it’s remarkably upbeat. Well, maybe not remarkably, but upbeat is hard for me on many topics! I too am having remarkable luck for nearing sixty-seven; yesterday I lead a group mountain bike ride and was able to impress riders whom I was spotting 20+ years, and climb slopes that eluded me just two years ago. And yet, there is that little voice in my head saying, in its best Captain Kirk cadence, “but…for…how…long…?”