IT CREEPS UP ON YOU. One day you're striding along the ocean bluffs singing with Eva Cassidy on your iPod - and the next day you're icing and elevating in your recliner.
I've been TALKING about it for years. All the laughable and mournful signs are here: bottles of pills and heating pads on the night stand. Canes and walkers etc. But I don't really believe it yet.
My father used to speak condescendingly about "old Mrs. Bernreiter" next door. She was 10 years his junior.
He called his peers 'dear old souls' until he was the only one left, at 97. So I know you can perceive your 'condition' in widely different ways. Some people think they're old at 50! I didn't realize that my graduate students weren't seeing me as 'one of them' anymore until, in my 60's, they began to defer to me in a distancing sort-of way. Now, nearly 80, I'm proud of my age, but still bewildered by the IDEA of old age.
My body has betrayed me. My face surprises and dismays me. It turns out that the state of one's body is central to happiness.
I've read a few good books on aging gracefully - wearing purple, staying juicy, acting fierce, getting rid of belly fat, being transparent, compassionate and wise . . .
Here are a bunch more books that I've had for ages. I'll read them later when I'm shuffling along like Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett show (is anybody out there old enough to know what I'm talking about?)
But one book that really has my attention right now is Turn of Mind, by Alice La Plante.
It's the powerful story of a fiercely intellingent woman struggling with growing dementia. Reviews call it, "heartbreaking and stunning, compelling and painful to read". I love the utterly unforgetable, darkly humorous portrayal of a retired doctor hanging on to her diminishing sense of self.
She has moments of clarity. When she discovers her husband is having an affair she says to her old friend, "there are lots of things worse than betrayal . . . losing your sight. Losing the use of your arms. Just about any physical affliction or deformity".
"IF YOU'VE GOT YOUR HEALTH," she insists, "YOU'VE GOT EVERYTHING - pretty much."
I think I agree. All the other big stuff - like emotional dramas, spiritual crises, political stupidities - although hugely important - pale in the face of pain. It can shake your faith in your universe.
But right now I'm having a major attitude adjustment. I'm shifting into realistic OLD AGE.
It feels like a more comfortable mix of acceptance, courage, and freedom.
I don't have to fight the dreaded concept.
I can live my seasons with grace!