I’m not sure what the expression, “aging gracefully” means. I sometimes hear it in connection with some movie star or some world famous person. I have never really understood its meaning. I believe that I now have some idea of its meaning. I believe that aging gracefully is a euphemism for not complaining about growing older and dressing in stylish clothes (a la Cary Grant or the Dos Equis guy).
I have not yet come to that place in my life. I have a feeling that I have been aware of my mortality since I was 10 years old in August of 1949. It was at the moment in Willard Parker Hospital on the east side of Manhattan when I realized that I had polio. I was lying in a bed next to a glass window that separated the beds. I tried like hell to raise myself to stand and could not. The fact that I remember that instant so clearly is proof that immortality melted away. Something could bludgeon me and I would be no more.
My mind rolled back to a scene in a Williams Avenue apartment in February of 1943 when I saw my dad collapse and was taken to a hospital. I never saw him again.
Those are the kind of things that stamp your view of life and death forever. As I read the descriptions of Antonin Scalia passing away yesterday, I was reminded that he was 2 years older than me. True enough that he did not seem to take care of himself, but that is of no consequence. He no longer exists as a person, although his influence lingers on.
Living here in Adult Disneyworld one can look at mortality in a number of ways. As I make my way to the gym, I see displayed before me people in all stages of health. We are all there to extend our lives, or at the least make our lives more comfortable. I place myself in the latter category. I never thought that I would reach the year 2000, much less 2016. I could never even dream of the 2016 world with me in it. That is truly a remarkable thing.
As I contract more tiny little discomforts, I realize that I have been fortunate enough to have a heart procedure and I knee replacement. However, things like taking 20 pills a day (better living through chemistry) make me realize that I am trying to reconstitute myself to a former life. I spend more time in the bathroom these days applying cremes and unguents, toe devices, and shoe inserts than ever before. It is a reminder that without these things, I would not be able to function properly.
A constant reminder to me of my aging is the age cohort in the place where I am living. No matter what gathering, a movie, a play, a meeting, a political gathering, etc., the heads that I see spread before me is grey. Yes, there are bunches of women with hair of differing hues, but most are grey. I am trying mightily to get over these scenes. I have actually moved to a place in my daily life where I am going to high school basketball games and meeting with young men who may need a bit of some help with the next stages of their life. In those situations, I am neither old, nor young. I am the same person who has worked with young people for most of my life. That is my defense against aging and my frailties. The young folks that I work with are still trying to push me to take a jump shot. My answer to them is, “I am so old that when I played basketball, white men COULD jump.”