My 59th birthday is now just a month away.
As I prepare for my last year of what most folks call middle-age, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on growing older — in particular, on entering the senior years.
Senior years! What the hell?
I recall when I turned 40. That was also a transitory time — from young adult to middle-age.
I thought I was getting old then. What did I know?
Back then, I had a conversation with a dear lady who was so close to my wife and me that we sometimes called her “Mom.”
She had recently turned 62, and was talking about how strange that felt.
“I’ll tell you guys,” she said, “I look in the mirror and see an old lady, but that’s not really how I see myself. Inside, I still think of myself as a teenager.”
At the time of this conversation, I didn’t fully understand what Mom was saying. Now I think I do.
A couple of experiences I’ve had in the last few years reinforced this notion.
The first one occurred about five years ago.
My wife, Jen, and I were going to an Eagles concert at Rupp Arena with my brother, her sister and their spouses.
It was the first rock concert I had been to in many years, and as we walked into the arena, a lot of old memories came flooding back.
I had spent a lot of evenings in that historic venue during my teens and 20s.
I saw most of the iconic musical acts of the era there: The Who, Fleetwood Mac, ELO, Styx, Foghat, Bob Seger, Kiss, Kansas, The Cars, Toto, Foreigner and many more, including the Eagles.
I truly think at that moment five years ago, as we walked into that arena, my mind was back in 1979 and I was going to see the Eagles for the first time. I thought I was 18 again.
So when I started to look around at the other people taking their seats, I suddenly felt disoriented. Instead of seeing throngs of high school and college kids in T‑shirts and bell-bottoms, I was seeing gray-haired men and women.
I turned to my wife and said without a hint of irony, “Why do you suppose all of these old people are here to see the Eagles.”
“Are you serious?” she replied. “These are our people.”
The other incident happened just the other day. It was probably the thing that precipitated this whole line of thinking for me. And it also involved music.
I was doing what I often do in summer — driving around town with my windows down, listening to classic rock music at a very high volume. I think it was AC/DC.
As I watched for an open parking space at Kroger, I noticed an elderly couple walking past my car, and I instinctively turned down the stereo. Another habit from my youth. I was never one to offend “old people” with my rock music.
I had to stop the car and chuckle out loud when I realized that couple was no more than 10 years older than me.
I think another mental image I carry around is clouding my judgment. It’s not one of me, but of other people. I now have many friends in their 60s, 70s, and beyond. I don’t think of them as old because I know them, and most of them are as active as I am, or more so.
But I still carry this mental model of what being “old” is like, based on the older people I knew growing up.
My maternal grandparents barely lived into their 70s, and they seemed very frail and sedentary for perhaps the last decade of their lives.
Most of the other older people I knew back then talked, acted, dressed and got around much differently than younger adults. I suppose we’re now staying physically active and mentally sharp much longer than those generations did.
We don’t feel old, so we don’t act old.
It’s practically cliché now to say things like “60 is the new 50” and “70 is the new 60.” But it does carry some truth.
Older people today are not like my grandparents.
If I’m fortunate enough to stay alive and healthy into my 70s and 80s — and perhaps beyond — I don’t think I’ll ever become like my youth’s senior citizens.
We all carry around a mental image of who we are. Some are more realistic than others. But I think I’ve decided that I’m not nearly as concerned about how others see me as I am about how I see myself. So I’ll hang on to my mental self-image and keep blasting that rock music.
This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on September 4, 2020.