Today I was at Sports Authority buying a bicycle, which I hope to ride for exercise and lose weight. I have a bad back because of spinal stenosis and arthritis, and can’t walk for exercise, so the idea is to bicycle instead. My theory is losing weight will help my back so I can do more, which is really a wish to be younger. We all want to turn the clock back. But, those delusional desires are so instructive.
I think women want to look younger, and men want to act younger. While waiting for the salesman to prep the bike I bought, two strikingly beautiful young women came into the store. Is there anything more educational about aging than envying the young?
I try hard not be be resentful. I don’t feel bitter. I pretty much laugh at the failures of my brain and body, but there is a fair amount of resentment of having to grow old. I try to keep it wistful, but sometimes it gets heavy.
I noticed that most of the people in the store were young, and obviously pursuing different physical activities, activities I can’t pursue anymore because of my age and condition. It really made me feel old and crippled. Although I’m only 60 and can still walk to a degree, I feel very limited physically, but I know plenty of people that have far more limitations, so I can’t bitch. At 60 I can see the future of doing less and less.
By writing about my growing list of age related restrictions, I hope I’m being philosophical and not whinny. At 60, I’m only getting a hint at what it means to be really old, so I think I need to psychologically prepare myself for being a decrepit old dude that can’t remember shit.
While waiting for my bike to be tuned up, I found a kiosk with this film for extreme sports advertising the GoPro Hero video camera, and it really made me think about being young again. The youth in these films below are pushing the envelope of youthful vitality. It would be totally pointless to wish I could do stuff like this, but I’ve got to ask, what are the activities that I could pursue that would push the limit of my fading vitality?
What if I strapped on a helmet with a HERO 2 camera, can I do anything worth filming?
I highly recommend you play these videos in full screen at the highest resolution. I love these videos. They’re dazzling, beautiful, and exciting – a cruel reminder of all my resentments about getting old. It’s also a reminder of my own personal failings, and the limitations I’ve imposed on myself.
This doesn’t mean I’m ready to call it quits, I’m just hard-pressed to imagine doing anything Hero 2 worthy. But what if I was 90 watching myself write this blog while listening to music, would I impress my older self with an activity I won’t be able to do then?
Now, I know few people pursue these extreme sports – I think these people must have a gene for thrill-seeking which I obviously don’t have. I also assume they have a lot more money than I ever had. I think we all resent beautiful, rich, jetsetters, unless we’re beautiful and rich, so that’s not the resentment I’m talking about.
I’m sure there are plenty of twenty-five-year olds that would envy the folks in these films.
My issue is with myself, for not trying harder, for not making more of the time and the opportunities I had when I was young. I have the genes to be a bookworm that loves quiet indoor life. I think if I magically got to live life over I think I’d trade TV and movie watching for several hours a week of being active outside. I’d still keep books, writing, science and computers – in a do-over I’d just try to find a balance, maybe two-thirds geek and one-third jock, instead of 100% geek.
Most of my friends who are my age think I dwell on getting old, and that I just need to act younger. They tell me I’m getting old because I think I’m old. They think they are still young because they believe it to be so. I think they’ve forgotten what it’s really like to be young and are refusing to accept the reality of aging. But then I’ve always been a Puritanical Buddhist Atheist that’s enjoys the grimness of reality and acceptance.
I think age is relative, but until your body starts failing in some serious way, you can continue to believe that youthfulness is a state of mind. Once you experience real body failures then you know youthful state of mind is bullshit. Getting old is so goddamn instructive of how reality works. This is why one of my all-time favorite stories is “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany. It’s a multi-level story where we get to see the limitations faced by each character as they struggle to fight through their own personal barriers.
Getting older and learning about the value of youth is like that old saying, “You don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone.” We all feel immortal when we’re young. We all feel like we’ve got plenty of time, time enough to waste. You won’t sense the reality of getting older until that sense of immortality goes away, and you realize time is running out, with none to waste.
Now, I don’t mean this to sound like, “Oh no, poor pitiful me.” No, what I expect is to scare the crap out of you about getting older. Don’t waste time, you have less than you think. Fight through the barriers you face because when you get older you’ll resent you didn’t try harder. What I’m learning about being 60 is I wished I had known what it would have been like when I was in my teens and twenties.
What I need to do now is imagine what being 90 is like to inspire me at 60. At 90, 60 would be an envious youth, and a 90’s mind would know how I wasted my time in my 60’s.
My back pain limits how much I can do. And my memory is also going, and I’m realizing the limitations that will mean too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still functional, I just function differently. I’m getting some insights on what it means to get old and frail. My next door neighbor is 93, and can’t walk much because of a stroke. She spends her days sitting in a chair watching TV. I can now see a path from where I’m at, to where she’s at. I know I’ve got to be prepared for a lot more limitations. Maybe it’s lucky that I have all that practice at watching TV, because if I had been an extreme sports kind of guy it would have been much harder to give it all up.
When you’re a kid all the old people ask you what you want to be when you grow up. As a kid, you feel you have this potential to be anything and it’s a really hard decision to make up your mind what to do. Well, it feels the same way when you’re older. People ask you what you’re going to do when you retire, and you think of all the possibilities. Whether you are young or old, the key is learning to deal with reality and it’s limitations. Those dark-haired beauties I saw at Sports Authority today would never have given me the time of day, even when I was their age. And there’s never been an age that I could have been an extreme sports guy. If you’re going to be regretful, you need to be realistically regretful.
Don’t resent what never could have been real. Resent what you failed to do that you realistically could have achieved.
JWH – 4/29/12
The mood for this essay was provided by Donovan and “Ferris Wheel.”