There are things they never tell you about getting older. I am not certain who was supposed to tell us but it seems like someone could have without giving away top secrets.
These days, when there are categories for everything and everyone, sixty-five to seventy-four is considered “early elderly.” Seventy-five and up is “elderly.” Seventeen percent of the U.S. population is over the age of seventy. With all those old people around, there could be more trickle-down information about aging before we actually get there, don’t you think?
Even simple stuff like body temperature. I have been someone who sweats profusely all my life. When I was a strapping teen splitting wood, playing basketball, or just sitting in Math class, I was wet three-quarters of the year. Now I know what being chilled feels like. I think it is the straffing of my shaved head by heating units and drafts. On the other hand, if I am standing for awhile in a room with ten foot ceilings where all the heat collects, because I am tall that same bald head drips while others wrap themselves in more sweaters. Aging is messing with my body’s thermostat and getting it right is elusive.
There is plenty of physiology to complain about, so much so that it is cliche to mention when two or three aging folks gather together aches and pains are in the midst of them. But for the most part the aches and pains, surgeries and limitations are actually trivial for most of us — a pain in the ashes of age for sure, but the physical pales in comparison to the existential nature of aging. That is what no one tells you about before you get here.
If you are fortunate, by seventy you have learned how little you know, and how much less you should have said for all those years. I listen to Trump and Biden and all those septuagenarians and octogenarians in Congress spouting all their political rhetoric and I think, surely you guys know by now that you don’t really know. Maybe that’s why I am inclined to reflect so often about nature — focusing on what I can observe seems like enough.
In addition to losing certainty, or even confidence in what you once knew for sure, all those consumer items and creature comforts you used to think were so important now seem pointless while relationships, loving and being loved, and the enduring connections of family and old friendships are everything. Of course there is also trying to figure out how to use what time and money we have left, within the limitations imposed by body and circumstance, to serve and advocate for those in need.
Sometimes trying to navigate and balance all of that can make our brain capacity feel a bit feeble. Yet the certainty that plagues the pre-”early elderly” can obscure the actual feebleness of youthful minds to figure out such challenges too. Truly, no one ever tells us any of this before it happens.
When I turned half-a-century I came home to find fifty pink flamingos in my front yard. My siblings had planned a surprise birthday visit. This week they’ve been sending me seventy cocktail-stick pink flamingos instead, along with photos to evoke memories. It’s early yet but so far I am learning how lovely aging can be.