Today my mother told me of an old friend of hers who had passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. Earlier in the week an old classmate informed me of her grandmother's passing, expected but never welcome. Last weekend it was another childhood friend relating how her husband and all of his buddies had lost their fathers in the last few years. The previous day there was the former colleague whose lifelong friend had passed away that morning, taken by a disease that progressed more quickly than expected.
This is the life of those eligible for AARP.
It is an insidious but profound transformation for many of us just on one side or the other of the half-century milestone. Our parents’ generation attains the average life expectancy for Americans in the early 21st Century and our own generation reaches the age that Samuel Shem called “young enough to die” in his novel House of God. The increasing number of funerals and “I thought you would want to know” phone calls and e-mails inexorably turn our attention to thoughts of health, retirement and our remaining time in the world.
As the days before us grow noticeably fewer than those behind, hope gives way to regret; for loves abandoned early or never explored, for friends betrayed or forgiveness withheld, for all that we are finally forced to accept will never be ours. Last chances spin past us with the accelerating turn of the seasons. We are getting old. We grow tired. We realize that it takes fifty years for most of us to really understand what it means to be mortal. As my ex-wife always liked to say, growing old is not for wussies, though that’s not the exact word she used. She was classy.
Perhaps the ultimate cruelty is that age does not diminish our desire to do and see and experience new things. We still wish to have adventures and fall in love and be popular. The spirit is not only still willing, it still burns with the same pride and desire and ambition that it has in decades past. But the flesh grows steadily weaker, we are reminded at every turn that we are no longer twenty-something and that even if we are as good once as we ever were, we are not as good as we once were (with apologies to Toby Keith, and to everyone else I know for quoting Toby Keith).
The upside to all of this, if there is one, is that those of us who are paying attention begin to appreciate our time more. We stop thinking “some day” and start acting. We make our bucket list, or start that business, or spend the occasional day at work completely screwing off. Because in the end, there will never be enough days if your life is sweet. But one perfect day can make a life worth living. So if you can see the Old Folks Boogie in your future, don’t waste another day worrying about the past you didn’t get exactly right. Use every day you have left trying to make that perfect day. And if you are too young to know what I’m talking about, just try to take it easy on the old folks. They may be having a hard time.