I think a lot about aging. Probably too much. This really began to happen a few years ago, when I retired, I began to see the attitude others had toward me take an interesting turn. It was as though there was a collection of assumptions about my life that automatically became a part of my reality. It almost seemed like patronization. Society was taking care of me whether I wanted it or not. A new definition was attached to my life and I was given special names to make sure I was "marked". Senior Citizen. Retiree. Or just a simple "Old Guy". My input was not solicited. I just got old. At that point the system kicked in and I became - Mr. Senior Citizen. This may all be in my mind. So what - that's a real place. It can't be ignored. Just today I got a letter from my gastroenterologist. I am, it seems, too old to have a regular colonoscopy, my favorite invasive examination. I suppose if I have a budding colon cancer somewhere in there, I just don't have enough time left to make treatment cost effective. The actuarialists are running the world.
I don't mind being old. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy it. However, it takes some rather intensive adjusting - not only to being old, but also to the subtile little shifts in attitude the world now has toward me and my contemporaries. I didn't see it coming. More accurately, I didn't want to see it coming. One day I found that I had moved into this alternate universe: the world of being an old person, a retiree, a person with a major history. I began to feel marginalized. A different set of rules now apply to me and I don't like it one damned bit.
To be marginalized is to be socially excluded, treated as unnecessary, unneeded, past tense - was, rather than is. Growing old is by definition a kind of marginalization in itself. Age, at some point, for all of us, brings with it a collection of diminishing abilities. We just ain't what we used to be. In this sense, aging is itself a degenerative condition. The situation is amplified by a seemingly growing list of famous-name degenerative conditions such as, arthritis, Alzheimer's, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( my current favorite ), diabetes, Parkinson's, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel, prostatitis, osteoporosis and, of course, everyone's favorite: cancer - just to name a few, several of which I am coming to terms with. All of these common accompaniments to aging tend to become agents of marginalization. Guess what? It's unavoidable.
For most of us, should we be so lucky as to live long, we will be gifted with one or more of the above conditions and because of that will no longer be able to run fast, jump high, lift heavy or step lightly. Just dealing with that reality is what aging is all about. It's making do with marginalization. It's adjusting and being happy about what is possible and not spending the late night hours pining away in despair over lost stamina, Superman/Wonder Woman strength, a movie star profile or the pleasure, often unrealized at the time, of planning a long life. It's a learned skill. There isn't as much stamina or strength, and God knows the profile is history, but it is what it is and not what it's not.
It seems to me that that's the lesson of aging. I deal with it every day. I'm sure we all to to varying degrees. It's tempting to focus on the past. There is so much of it. For me the key is to make some plans. Do something. It's about making one's self necessary. It really doesn't matter much what it is, just be with what you're doing. Cut the grass. Plant those peas. Fix something. Help someone. And, for the good of us all, stay in touch. Hanging out at the margins of life is someone else's idea.