Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I’m 64?
In Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, Bill asks Mike Campbell, “How did you go broke?” Mike says, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
Aging is like that. You barely notice the slow, gradual piling up of the indicia — the skin’s loss of elasticity, soft, quaint wrinkles here and there, mild pains there and here which are constant visitors, the development of intolerances to things that never bothered you before: the loss of a tooth, a diminishing of the libido, an upgrade in the lenses to your glasses. And so it goes.
It starts gradually, then — boom! — it hits suddenly.
Our culture in the U.S.A. is, as in so many other things, in denial. I know I am. When I hit 50, I heard that 50 was the new thirty. Sure, yeah, why not? I liked the sound of that. But 10 years later, when I got to 60, things began to visibly, demonstrably and annoyingly gel into problems that could conceivably go away, but were not. Problems that had not been problems became, well, problems. An exacerbation in the numbers measuring my high cholesterol levels; my diabetes; the aches in my knees; the pains from gout (a form of arthritis) making my mornings stiff and achy. Little things like that.
I’d quit smoking 25 years earlier; I’d given up drinking alcohol 10 years after that. Once upon a time I used to jog 5 miles 3 or 4 times a week. Little by little that got whittled down to hiking, then to walking, then to neighborhood strolls, until finally, as a conscious and concerted exercise, I stopped walking altogether, except, of course, the normal moving from place to place, through malls with my wife, from here to there and back, waiting in lines, et cetera. I mean, I didn’t completely stop walking. For a spell I even walked about 1 ½ to 2 miles around the park about 3 or 4 times a week, with my son, who slowed his pace for me. But the diabetic neuropathy in my feet and the broken jagged glass feel in my knees tempered that.
This July, 2022, I turned 68.
Goddamn. Two years away from 70!
One year away from the 69 years of age my father died at.
I can’t help it, I measure my timeline with those closest to me. My father died at 69, my mother at 83. An older brother died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 73. My father-in-law passed at 80, a friend 74, my brother-in-law at 57.
I have a vegetable-and-fruit hating fast food junkie uncle who’s led the life of a vagabond dissolute, and he’s visibly aged, but he’s still kicking at 82, taking the buses here and there and doing God knows what. He’ll probably outlast me, me thinks. Another older brother is 85, though what condition he’s in, I’m not sure, being that we don’t talk.
My memory isn’t what it used to be. I spent an entire day trying to remember the director and star of the movie “Dances with Wolves.” Hell, I finally had to look it up. My wife and children tell me that as I’ve grown older, there’s more and more I have to remember, and my mind has to make choices on what to remember, and what to jettison. Not remembering unimportant things, like Kevin Costner’s name, is small potatoes.
No doubt there are short term remedies: eat better and less, be more physically active, engage in targeting exercises, take Tai Chi, do crossword puzzles, memorize the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s longer songs, make new friends, learn new songs on the guitar and pray at every meal, and try to roll back the clock, if not by much, well, by something. But at a minimum, I have a ringside seat to how the fight is going to turn out, no ifs-and-or-buts. I would not feel so all alone, but everybody must get old. Well, if you’re lucky, right?
And like a neighbor who is no longer with us told me, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Buck up, kiddo.
All things being equal, though, some mornings feel like 68 is the new 78.