Whenever my wife and I talk about an “old” curmudgeon relative of ours, or we see an actor portraying some grumpy old geezer in a movie, my wife will often remark, “I don’t ever want to get old.”
But what does “old” really mean?
It can’t mean age alone, because we all know a few grumpy “old” curmudgeons who might very well be as “young” as 30 or 40.
NOR does being “old” automatically mean deteriorating health, because there are many people in their 70s or even 80s who can run circles around people who are 20, 30 or even 40 years younger.
The word “old” is actually difficult to define unless we want to set an arbitrary number like anyone over the age of 65 is old, although I think my wife would quickly change her tune about never wanting to live long enough to get old if that was the exit number.
As you can see, saying someone is “old” is as vague as saying someone is “honest”, because unless we clearly agree on our mutual definition of “honesty” or “old,” our discussion is ultimately meaningless.
But that’s what we often do. You and I can have a discussion about someone being “old”, and we might think we’re in complete agreement without ever realizing that our definition of “old” probably varies quite radically.
This point was so wonderfully illustrated a few months back when my wife and I called my Mom.
Now to set this story up. Mom is 91 years old. She lives alone with her little dog Teddy, drives a car and she’s completely independent.
As we were chatting over the phone and catching up on the latest, Mom mentioned that Aunt Ruth was debating whether or not she should have eye surgery, because she was beginning to lose sight in one eye. Aunt Ruth was hesitant to have the surgery because the convalescence was incredibly demanding.
Apparently, this type of retinal surgery required her to lie face down for 24 hours a day, for quite a number of weeks, because it required a gas bubble in her retina to rise in order to reattach. Keeping the head in a face-down position is the only way it can heal.
When I asked about the possibility of Aunt Ruth losing sight in both eyes Mom was quite certain that wasn’t a concern. So I mentioned that it seemed to be quite an ordeal to go through at her age when she was only faced with the probability of gradually losing sight in just one eye.
Well, my mom was rather shocked that I could even think such a thing! “After all”, she said, “your Aunt Ruth is still quite young.”
That struck me as a little odd, so I asked … somewhat confused, “how old is Aunt Ruth?”
Oh, Mom replied she just barely turned 86!
My wife and I had a good laugh over that, but later on, I kept thinking about what she said because clearly from Mom’s perspective, why would aunt Ruth, or anyone for that matter, not do everything possible to look after their health … especially when she’s just an 86 year-old spring chicken with so many years ahead of her?
After that conversation, I began giving the idea of “old” a great deal of thought. Consequently, I came up with my definition of “old”, which is this; someone is “old” as soon as they think of themselves as “old” because when that happens they begin to accept a downward slide into decrepitude, disability and dependence on others as a natural part of aging.
And here’s the thing, it’s not at all uncommon to hear people in their 40s and 50s moan about getting old and drone on about how they can no longer do all the things they used to be able to do in their younger years.
Whenever I hear someone say that I know they’re already old, regardless of their chronological age because our beliefs have an uncanny way of becoming our reality.
But we can absolutely live a long life without ever becoming old because barring some autoimmune disease or some freak accident, we have an unbelievable degree of control over how we age. Poor health, endless medications and dependency on others are becoming increasingly common, but it’s NOT natural!
By learning to master health and vitality you won’t ever think of yourself as “old”, nor will you accept being dependent on others, because you won’t have to.
Like Mom said … at 86 years of age you’re still young, and on that score, Mom and I are in complete agreement.
Thanks for reading I’ll see you next time.