If you live long enough, old age will some day begin to sneak up on you. There's a pain here, a strain there. Some food you've always loved starts bothering you. Too much cabernet or champagne will suddenly make you snore. Or at least, if other people's reports are to be trusted. It doesn't all happen at once. And each thing, in itself, can normally be explained away.
What makes old age such a sneaky thief is that when it starts to take things away from you, it typically most often brings them back - at least, at first, and for a time. You're hobbling around with a back injury, unable to do your normal stuff. And then a few days or a few weeks later, the pain goes away. The stiffness disappears. Oh, Ok. I'm fine.
Or age takes away, bit by bit, your natural ability to sleep solidly through the night. You have lots of fitful evenings. You're exhausted. And maybe cranky. And then you have one or two or more deep slumbers again. Oh, Ok. I'm fine. It was just the full moon, or the dog moving around too much, or those neighbors, or that spicy burger.
That's what makes old age so tricky. It takes away and then often gives back, and it's typically so subtle about its depredations that you can almost always, for a while, blame something else.
Now, I'm saying this as a youth of 62. I'm stronger than I've ever been in my life, and vigorous and energetic in almost every possible way. And yet, when I go crazy in the gym, it's easier to mess up that rotor cuff, or those hip flexors, and then I'm semi-benched for a while, until I come back, full force, but a little more cautious. My greatest strength and weakness at once is that I'm a person of extremes. And youthful resilience will tolerate extremes that middle age, and the early onset of maturity may not so readily indulge.
I have a friend who at 92 just published his memoir and has been on book tour promoting the autobiography on most of the major talk shows. He gives me hope. But he may even slow down in ten or twenty years. Most of his peers are already not as full of life and energy.
It looks like old age is going to eventually take away pretty much everything we have. It will take away beauty and power and all sorts of possibilities. In some cases, it seems to rob people of most everything they are, at least in this world. And yet, that's an important qualification. There's a wild option here.
In the end, it may be that old age isn't just a liar and a thief of the worst sort. Maybe it's a teacher and a guide. We say it has its compensations. And wisdom can certainly be one of them. But maybe this thing called wisdom goes far deeper than we suspect, and part of the wisdom that age has to convey to us is the realization that we need to shed a lot of the baggage of this world before transitioning to a new adventure in the next one.
Some may object that part of the baggage that age has helped them shed already is such a belief that there is something more. And in their journey, perhaps, that shedding in its own way has helped in their preparation for what does indeed come next. But it's my view that they'll be surprised. They think nothing is on the horizon. I suspect something big is. And I realize we can't both be right. But I can't help but feel that I am.
Age. I'll still wrestle with the joker, while laughing at his pranks. And the more I fight him, the more I'll get of him, if I'm successful. But of course, in the end, I can't win, because there is an end. Or, wait. What if somehow we both win, in the end, age and I, if we do it just right? Maybe old age is the guide it needs to be, in many ways - if we take the right attitude about dealing with it.
I know, I'm still young. But we need to plan ahead.
Age well, my friends.