Sunday, September 22, 2013

What A Drag It Is Getting Old

According to legend, I was born in 1970, so a little arithmetic will tell you that I am 43 years old.  And lately, the “old” part of being 43 years old has been particularly evident.  As I write this, I am propped up in bed with an ice pack strapped to my swollen right knee, dealing with a bad case of bursitis.  Yes, bursitis!  Bursitis, if you don't know, is a painful inflammation of the cushion between one’s joints, and something up to now I always considered as a condition for people who are, for lack of a better word, OLD.  I've never had it before, don’t know why I have it now, and hope to high heavens that I don’t have it again anytime soon. 

I am only 43, I tell myself.  I am not supposed to have things like bursitis.  My grandmother is.  She’s 88.  That makes more sense.  Not that I am wishing ill upon her by any means.  It's just that I am too young for this!  After all, I know who Imagine Dragons are and wear cargo shorts on a regular basis!  I’m not old!

And a booming voice comes out of the clouds above: “Wrong, Grandpa!”

Okay, I am pretty young at heart, but my body...well, maybe not so much anymore.

I've always joked about aging and the passage of time at milestone birthdays, like my 18th, 21st, and 30th, but truth be told, those came and went and not much really changed.  My 40th, on the other hand, was like passing through some kind of gate into a new land.  That was when I really started to notice that, physically at least, I wasn't as young as I used to be. 

First, there is the noticeable change in stamina.  My health has been pretty consistent over the years.  I am overweight for my height by about 20 pounds, but otherwise suffer from no chronic problems like high blood pressure or diabetes.  In my forties, however, I've found that things are different.  I've been placed into the body of an old guy.  

A case in point was when I climbed Mt. Megunticook on the coast of Maine recently.  It was the sole physical activity of the day for me.  It took me the better part of the afternoon and several bottles of water to hike up the 1,385 foot elevation and then down again.  When I reached my camp at the bottom, I had to take some aspirin and a long nap, and was terribly sore for three days.  And don’t even get me going on the blistered feet.  The climb took all the wind out of my sails, and then some.  I actually checked my cell phone’s reception to make sure I’d be able to dial 911 if necessary.

Back in my mid-20s, several other teachers and I climbed that very same mountain with a group of nearly 80 third and fourth grade students.  The weather was iffy, so I didn’t even dress for the trip, thinking it would be cancelled.  Nonetheless, I climbed that same mountain in a shirt and tie, in half the time, with no blisters, barely breaking a sweat, and without any water.  I then went back to school with the students, taught all afternoon, attended a long committee meeting after school, ran some errands in town and then mowed my lawn after dinner that evening.  If I had aches and soreness afterward, I don’t remember them.

Next, I've found that piddly little things are causing me pain.  All of a sudden, the motion of raking the lawn for an hour or so causes my shoulder to ache for the next day or two.  Getting down on the floor with a sick animal at work can easily tweak my back if I am not careful about how I do it, and once about two years ago, I literally threw out my back while bending over the bathroom sink to spit out toothpaste.  Seriously.  If I was in an old-time covered wagon heading out west, my companions would be completely justified in leaving me alongside the trail for the coyotes.  And if that same party became stranded and had to resort to cannibalism, there is no doubt who they'd eat first, despite the fact that I would probably be quite stringy and gristly.

Of course its not a discussion of male aging without a mention of hair.  I am fortunate to still have lots of it, on my head and elsewhere, just as I always have, and the vast majority of it is still the original color (brown).  Based on the photos I saw of my 25th high school class reunion, many of my male peers are not so lucky.  It still blows my mind when someone my age or younger has male pattern baldness.  Luckily, that is one thing I don't have to get uptight about.  It's nowhere to be found in my family tree.  Gray hair is a different story.  I found my first gray hair when I was 24, just after I closed on the mortgage for my first house.  I figured I earned that one.  Since then, the gray has been oddly slow in coming.  Very, very gradually it is becoming noticeable in my temples, especially just after I get it cut, but I am still below average in the gray hair department compared to most men my age.  Thankfully, the same lack of grayness applies to the hair that is not on my head, of which I have more than my fair share.  I truly think that having the hair on my chest or arms go gray will bother me much more than the gray on my head.  Once in a blue moon a stray gray will make an appearance there, but I swiftly vanquish the interloper.

Interesting side note: people sometimes ask why I do not grow facial hair or allow more than a day’s growth of stubble.  The fact of the matter is, all the gray hairs I have seem to have come in on my face.  If I go more than two days without shaving, it becomes very clear that my mustache and beard would be heavily streaked with gray.  That’s not a look I could pull off gracefully especially with a shock of thick brown hair upstairs.  Maybe someday I’ll grow some facial hair when what I have on my head matches, but until then, no thanks.

For me though, the worst parts of getting physically older are the surprises.  You know, like the food or drink you've enjoyed regularly over the course of your entire life that suddenly gives you screaming heartburn.  (I’m talking to you, hot tea!)  Or the sudden back spasms that literally knock you off your feet at work and cause your coworkers to think for a moment that you've been struck from behind by a pygmy dart.  Or the nights when you may as well sleep in the bathroom, because you are making so many trips there to empty your apparently pea-sized bladder.  Oh, and waking up one morning with painful bursitis in the right knee, for no known reason. Those are the kinds of surprises I mean.

It bothered me when Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield retired from baseball in 2011, because he was the last player on my favorite team that was my age.  As of last season, there were no major league baseball players my age or older.  That was a milestone I didn't care for at all.  It still bothers me when I read an obituary in the paper of someone my age or younger dying of some health malady.  And I don’t think I will ever get used to the idea of people I went to school with being grandparents now, but a couple of them are.

I know what they say: “You are only as old as you feel, ” and I have no doubt that age is relative.  To my nieces and nephews, I probably am seen as old.  To my parents and their generation, I am seen as pretty young.  To my grandmother’s generation, I am still practically a kid.  There are people old enough to be my parents running marathons and swimming from Cuba to Florida (not on the same day, mind you), so I guess I just need to keep setting my sights high.

I could go on and on about this topic of getting old, but I had better stop here.  It’s 4:00 in the afternoon, and the early-bird dinner special is starting at the diner downtown.  Plus, I need to restock my bowl of hard ribbon candy.

A video for Mother's Little Helper by the Rolling Stones, from YouTube.

Post-script: There’s no small amount of irony that the title of this post is borrowed from the first line of an early Rolling Stones song, “Mother’s Little Helper”.  The Rolling Stones are now quite old, no matter how you slice it, and yet their most recent songs and footage from their live concerts this past summer prove that they have still got it going on.

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