You are going to die.
It could be by a train this afternoon, or it could be in 70 years when you’re happy from having lived a full life, but you are going to expire and turn to dust.
For the sake of this post, let’s say you’ll live to be 95. The reward for a long life is the accumulation of age.
And with age comes certain … let’s call them variables.
Like most people, when I was young I never thought I’d get old. Even into my thirties I never felt old because, thanks to hearty Scots DNA, there was no real evidence of aging. “Old” was something “out there” in the distance. Besides, I was certain I would be an anomaly and age better than most.
I’m now 52 and have learned that you can’t stop, pause, or rewind time. And, as long you’re not in complete denial, with time comes the awareness that everything on the planet is in a state of flux. Especially us fragile, organic creatures.
So in no particular order, here are a few of the confounding things that I’ve noticed will occur as you accumulate age:
For my 40th birthday, my wife took me to a restaurant. Our table was lit by candle. I couldn’t read the menu. I could see the writing, but it was so blurry that she had to order for me. Because of my ego, it took another five years before I finally broke down and got a pair of what are essentially very expensive reading glasses. Of course not everyone’s eyes will begin to fail (my wife is my age and has perfect vision), but according to my optometrist the magic age for most eyes is 40.
From volume to color to having it appear in places it never grew before (shoulder hair anyone?), perhaps nothing screams “old” like one’s hair. It’s no coincidence that hair coloring is such a massive market. My father was completely silver by the time he was my age. so I guess I’m lucky to have a touch of black left on top– though my beard is toast.
It was sometime in my 40s when I noticed deep cracks on my face when I smiled in photographs. You see, I grew up in Florida in the 1970s during a time when sunscreen was a far off invention and people wore tanning butter to the beach. As a result, my epidermis has paid dearly for the sins of my youth (and of cultural ignorance.) Also, I’m noticing that I seem to have more skin than ever before. Which leads to …
Over time gravity takes its toll on pretty much everything on the planet. From the mightiest of mountains to the apple from a tree, the force of gravity is constantly pulling things down, drawing them closer to the earth’s core. Unfortunately, this also means that the human body is in a constant fight against this force. I’ve particularly noticed its effect on muscles. What were once firm and tight slowly become soft and loose. Whether its the muscles in your face, or your biceps, abs, or pecs—gravity has its way with them. I’m fairly ok with aging for the most part, but must admit I’m constantly working to avoid manboobs.
The Zone of Contentment
Ok so technically this could fall under gravity, but I think it deserves its own category. The Zone of Contentment is located just above the hipbone on a man’s backside, extends out a few inches (commiserate with consumption), and wraps around in almost a perfect sphere to the front of the body where this layer of fluff sits just atop the ab muscles. I swear I never though I’d fall victim to the spare tire, but time has a way of slowing down your metabolism and the most obvious result is the Zone of Contentment. Oh, and it’s hard to lose—no matter how many crunches you do.
But Wait, There’s More!
From the enamel on your teeth wearing thin to your hearing, and from the aches in your knees when you get out of bed to the pain in your back when you stand up from sitting, aging brings with it a whole range of new sensations that you never imagined you’d have to deal with. The trick, I think, is not to hate on them, but rather embrace them with the understanding that this is the gift of longevity. And remember, you’re lucky—you could be dead already.
Note: Sure, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars to appear as though age can’t touch you. Like somehow you’re immune to forces that affect everyone else. I mean, I tried dying my hair a couple years back for a few months. And while I did look a few years younger, I wasn’t. It was inauthentic. In the end I simply didn’t care enough to keep doing it. Today I eat right and work to feel healthy, not to try and reverse aging. But yes, I could stand to drop a few kilos. It’s all good, though.
“When I was a boy my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to be around him. But when I got to be a man I was astonished at how much he’d learned.” – Mark Twain
The older you get, the more you learn. About everything. So here are a few of the benefits of aging that I’ve discovered. Things that when I was young I didn’t even consider.
The older I get the more I sense the struggle of everyone around me. We’re all just doing the best we can, man. When you see people this way, you can’t help but to glean empathy and put down the tough guy routine.
When we’re young we are the masters of our universe. The rulers of our lives. The only thing that stands between us and whatever we want is some person or thing that is easily circumvented. Here in the US, they actually train us from an early age to go hard after whatever the hell we want in life. To hustle our asses off to get what we desire. It’s a selfish way to move through life, for sure, but moreover it’s delusional to think of yourself as more valuable than anyone else. You’re not. You’re just a person making your way in the world like everyone else. Age helps you realize that you spent a lot of time early on spinning your wheels. Understanding that you’re but a small player on a massive stage reduces stress. And less stress is very, very good.
So they say. However, I’m still learning this one. Check back in a few years.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Once you’ve got enough trips around the sun under your belt, you learn to see things differently. A routine that once seemed innocuous enough begins to look perilous. Take smoking for example. Over time when you open your eyes to new ideas and embrace the concept of change, you begin to see things differently. This awareness is a gift.
Call it whatever you like, but the fact is that (unless you’re insane) the older you get the fewer bad decisions you make. Plus, on a personal level, because I’m a writer, the more I write the better I get at the craft of writing. I sometimes look back at the crap I wrote in my 30s and wonder how anyone paid me to do it. Yes, while my body might suffer the inevitable effects of aging, my mind is becoming sharper. I vet and filter things faster than ever—making me more efficient. Age brings a certain wisdom you simply can’t fabricate as a younger person.
On the one hand, empathy helps you understand that most people are just trying to find their way in the world, making you more tolerant of this common human struggle. On the other hand, wisdom helps you see people for what they are. And frankly, some people will hold fast to certain ideals that make them intolerable. Age helps you fairly evaluate these people faster, so that you can avoid them. Which is to say I have less tolerance for ignorance than ever, but have more tolerance for people in general. And I see the difference quicker.
Ironically, the remedy for a broken heart is opening yourself up to more love. I wasted a good chunk of my life rejecting people. The result was a calloused heart as I donned blinders to avoid being hurt again. Over time I’ve learned to work past my fears to give myself authentically to people—and have been rewarded tenfold for this practice. Yes, there are people out there who will hurt you. No, you’ll never get through life without having your heart broken. But until you’re willing to risk your heart you are bound to a limited and lonely experience. Take chances with your heart. Risk. I promise, it’s fucking brilliant.
You Become a Better Lover
I’ll just leave this last one here for my wife to confirm.