If Age is Only a Number, I Want Mine Unlisted
Was I living in denial about aging? I rarely thought about myself as a senior citizen except for when those annoying AARP letters arrived to remind me. This year I received the good news/bad news notification from the Social Security Office telling me I am eligible for retirement benefits. Sure, a little extra cash is always a good thing, but how did I get this old so fast?! Then there are the times I get well-intentioned, but patronizing comments at triathlons about how it’s just great I’m still showing up and how they hope they can do triathlons when they’re my age. They mean well, but their comments make me feel like Methuselah in spandex.
Most days, I can put the age issue aside and forget the passage of years. Sure, it takes me longer to recover from a hard workout, but I can still DO the workout. My mind may be aging, but it is sharp enough to play along with Jeopardy and get a reasonable amount correct (unless it’s the geography category). My vision isn’t 20/20 like it used to be, but I consider that a gift. I can’t clearly see the wrinkles and saggy skin, but thank goodness neither can my equally old husband. I am shocked by reality when I put my glasses on to do the weekly stray hair maintenance. I like being in aging denial; it’s a comfortable place to live.
Perhaps the longevity in my family tree leaves me with lofty expectations. My dad lived to 98, my grandfather was just a few months shy of 101 years, and I have an uncle who is still walking three miles a day and will celebrate his 99th birthday this fall. I’ve only been a hospital patient twice, and both times I left with pink bundles of joy. I’m lucky to have good health and was always smug in my expectations to live to be 100.
My dad got to celebrate 98 birthdays!
That confidence has taken a hit in the last three months as I face the truth that was always there, but I refused to acknowledge. We don’t know when our time is up. Yes, I heard all the clichés about living each day as if it were your last and the fancy Italian saying “carpe diem” which translates to “seize the day.” Yet I still secretly believed those were words for weaker souls, not me. I was going to live a long, healthy life. My clandestine theme song was Five For Fighting’s song about only having 100 years to live. I thought I’d have at least that long.
Then Covid-19 entered our world and made me face some cold, hard truths. I am vulnerable; I am considered an older, at-risk person. In some people’s minds, the number of years I’ve lived render me expendable. I am collateral damage in the war against the invisible enemy. I’ve been inundated with information about the 60-plus population being vulnerable, and despite the statistics now showing an increasing trend towards younger people testing positive for Covid-19, the weak, susceptible self-image persists. Grocery and drug stores have kindly added “senior hours” so we can shop at less crowded times. While I appreciate the thoughtfulness, I also feel somewhat resentful knowing I fit in that category.
Covid-19 accelerated the mental aspects of aging, giving me a feeling of being exposed and elderly. I found myself thinking of aging in a way I never had before. For the first time, I started viewing myself as old, and that kind of thinking is a dangerous mindset. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, “People who accept the most depressing cultural images of aging may also take worse care of themselves, even shortening their own lives by an average of 7.5 years.” The stereotypes of older people being useless and expendable carry the danger of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, according to The Washington Post.
Covid-19 rudely pushed me out of my happy cocoon of age denial, but I’m determined to climb back in as smoothly and quickly as I can. The cocoon won’t fit quite as well because of the enlightenment I have unwillingly partaken (or was it all the quarantine cookies?). I’ve been made painfully aware of the fact I might never know when my number is up. My rose-colored vision of hitting 100 years is hazy, but I’m determined to try to live each day the best I can while staying safe in quarantine. If the cliché is correct, and we’re only as old as we feel, I’m still somewhere in the middle of my life. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
This was a good birthday. I think I’ll just pretend I’m still at that stage in life.