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Aging is a Solo Journey

How is it that the one predictable thing about life sneaks up on so many people? From the first spark of cognition, everyone is shown positive and tangible proof of the progression of life. That first face we see and every one thereafter shows us the effects of time, and sooner rather than later we grasp the concept of older, longer and later … as in “not now.” We delineate the boundaries of “old” as somewhere north of where we are, and who didn’t consider their parents ancient, even if they were in their 20s when they were subject to our disdainful judgment?

Yet each incremental incursion into the future is met with surprise that this universal law somehow applies to us. It’s as if we suspend the operation of chronological time when it comes to us on an individual basis. We fantasize about life in the future, and even ourselves advanced a portion of years; but don’t truly believe it will happen to us. We allow as how we’ll grow up, but never how we’ll grow old. As my octogenarian father routinely used to say, “Old is 10 years older than I am.”

Aging is a chameleon creature, ignored at first, then embraced as an adventure, acknowledged with a grudging nod; then dreaded as the inexorable march to death it is at bottom.

But as the physical follows the path of the morning flower whose pedals unfurl and then continue their natural path through decay to rebirth; the same journey that so alters one sphere of existence also does so to the others. And in this phase the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and psychological gifts have a chance to fulfill their destinies. Creaking joints and diminished sight are small prices to pay for an end to the endless indecision and insecurity of youth, you could argue.

Just like when you drive a car, you must keep your eyes well ahead on the road before you, when you view the possible course of your life’s trip, look far enough ahead to be able to see the curves as they come. Setting your sights too low is like having your trajectory shortened and makes you peak too fast and die too young. And age is the only alternative.

How many people do you know whose fondest memories of life after 40 years is a high school recollection? Peak too young and it’s all downhill from there. On the other hand, keep looking at the ahead and you can never see the end of your journey. Always believe that your peak is yet to come, is always on the horizon. True, your expectations could be unreasonably high, but on the other hand, you never run out of time to achieve your goals --- until you do.

And the funny thing is that when you’re young, and the envy of a bunch of older folks, you’re so insecure and so busy coveting the assurance and confidence of older folks that you don’t realize they’re hatin’. When you’re older, if you’re lucky, you embrace the wisdom and don’t sweat the sagging.

Of course, it doesn’t help that as far as this culture is concerned, aging is worse than death, as long as you die young and leave a pretty corpse. Whatever happened to the council of elders? It’s ironic that what will soon be the largest segment of the population will also be the most culturally loathsome. Clearly a shift in priorities is in order.

We have standards about appropriate levels of achievement, comportment, demeanor and skills for children in school and young adults approaching independence. But aside from birthing babies and trying to keep them alive while in your charge, there are precious few standards to guide adults through age appropriate phases of development.

We are taught to prepare for the future until it arrives, and then we’re just supposed to tread water until we die. Is it any wonder that most innovations spring from the young or people new to a field? All life in this culture is geared to some amorphous time in our lives that is always either in front or behind us. Our priorities in this world are well-defined if self-limiting. Survive, procreate, consume.

Perhaps we should create individual aging plans, sort of like some high school guidance counselors once tried to implement to help students navigate their way into the rivers of commerce.

Matching skills with tasks, though, will likely result in some fairly radical tailoring of the social fabric. Since we all know that youth is wasted on the young; and children don’t come with instruction manuals, grandparents would be the only class of folks eligible to raise children and mid-life would mark the period of intensive play and manic rejection of responsibility; and a coalition of the very young and the very old would make all the important decisions.

Oh, well, in the meantime, all you can do is hope for good genes and perform regular maintenance.

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