Growing Older but Not Up

Age is just a number isn’t it?

I have always been told that, more so as I get older, but I have to be honest with you, my friends, I am starting to feel it creep in. Getting older is a funny thing, because it is not the brain that ages. My head feels like it’s 30, but each morning as I wake and get out of bed I feel all of my 51 years at once. Injuries I had in my teens come back to haunt me and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that years have no meaning to scars.

“The Brain doesn’t age, although its ideas about the world may harden and there’s a greater tendency to run off at the mouth.” ~ Stephen King”

Recently a book I am reading spent a chapter on aging, and how it feels to be getting old. It likens it to the story of how to boil a frog. The saying goes that to boil a frog all you need to do is put them in a pot of cold water and increase the temperature a little at a time. The frog is too stupid to feel the minute increases in temperature until it is too late. Life is like that. You start off in cold water and as you age the water gets a little hotter each day until … well … you know the ending. Stephen King, the author of this book, agrees that the brain doesn’t get older. He writes “the brain doesn’t age, although its ideas about the world may harden and there’s a greater tendency to run off at the mouth …”

Not that I can relate to that of course … 🙂

The three stages of aging are usually recognized as (1) Youth [0-25], (2) Adulthood [25-65], and (3) Old Age [65+]. I am not sure this is correct anymore. I have known people in their 30’s who are still kids, and more than a few people in their 60’s that still compete every weekend in races. Age is a relative concept. It is different for everyone, and is more diverse these days than it ever has been in the past. But it’s there. King once again states it as only King can:

I think his point goes back to the frog analogy, aging sneaks up on us so gradually that by the time we start to notice its presence, it’s too late.

At 52, especially in this age, I can hardly be considered “old”, but I notice it. There are a few more lines on my face, a few more gray hairs in the beard. Hair is disappearing where it should be and appearing in places it shouldn’t. I work out 5-6 days a week and see no improvement while men only ten years my junior pass me like I am stagnant. It can frustrating, and disheartening, but inevitable in the life-cycle.

I have only shared this privately with a few people, but as you long time readers know I am one that put’s my thoughts and feeling on paper quite a bit, so try not to be too judgmental about what I am about to write down.

I am scared to death of death. It frightens me to think of lying there, knowing it is coming, and unable to do anything about it. It’s not like I dwell on it. Quite the opposite actually. But when I do think on it a get very … anxious. It was this very fear that got my ass off the couch four years ago and keeps me off the couch now.

No male in my family has lived past 70. The closest anyone got was my maternal grandfather, my namesake and someone I was very close to. He was 69. We thought, no we were SURE, he would live forever. He smoked Camel non-filters and was the normal New York Italian. 5’8″. Stocky (not fat … muscular). Loved life. Worked his ass off every day and retired early (in his 50’s) and spent every day fishing in his John Boat on the St. John’s River. When I returned from Desert Storm I would drive down from Jacksonville every weekend and spend days talking to him and eating the fish he caught that day. That was in May 1991. In April he had noticed his eyesight was going in his left eye so he sought out medical help. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and ideas ranged from glaucoma to syphilis (??). After an MRI a tumor was discovered in his brain. They removed the tumor and he underwent chemotherapy. He got through this with flying colors and was sent home, where he had a heart attack the next day. Back into the hospital he went. Being on his back so long caused his lungs to fill with fluid, and with the 50+ years of smoking he was unable to clear it, so they removed half of his right lung.

He died on November 2, 1991 at 2 AM. He was 69 years old. A healthy, vibrant man in April was dead 8 months later. My father died when I was 3, killed by a drunk driver while on patrol on his motorcycle in Savannah, Georgia, but I did not know him. I knew my grandfather, and he was the man I went to when I needed advice, the man I knew would tell me the truth no matter if it hurt my feelings or not, and now he was gone and I have never plugged that hole. I watched him go every day in that hospital. I watched as this strong man I knew growing up showed signs of fear about what was happening.

This is the thing about fearing death. I consider myself spiritual, but not religious and I am jealous of those truly faith filled people when it comes to death. My grandmother for instance grew up in a orphanage in Peekskill, New York (St. Joseph’s) after her mother died and her father could not care for the 13 kids. The nuns beat her, sometimes for things she did, and sometimes for things her sisters did that she took the blame for. She carried scars on her back her whole life from the leather straps they would use on these children. Yet, to her dying day, she was a devout Catholic. She walked to St. Peters Catholic Church every Sunday in DeLand my whole life, even after we kids stopped going (though I still would take her to midnight mass on Christmas Eve if I was home on leave). She did not fear dying, because she KNEW where she was heading. I am a bit jealous of that, the comfort that must bring. I cannot MAKE myself be like this, I think it is something that must come naturally, but that comfort must be a nice thing to have in you.

So, each day the water gets a little warmer as I creep toward that 70 year mark. The years fly but the days creep along. A strange phenomenon as you age. I think the lower 50’s, where I am now, is where you start transforming from middle-aged vibrancy to old man crotchety. I am trying my hardest to stave it off as long as I can. In one of our podcast episodes our guest John Bingham was listening to me wax on about getting better this year and trying to get better every year from now on. He listened and then stopped me, “John,” he said, “I would caution you to rid yourself of the word ‘better’ and start using the word ‘different’. Being better may not be obtainable, but every time you go out to run, or to swim, or to do anything, you will be different for it. Strive to be DIFFERENT each day.”

Well played, Penguin. Well played.

2 thoughts on “Growing Older but Not Up

  • October 30, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Good post. I’m same age as you. My Dad ran his first marathon at 50 and went on to do ten altogether. I envy you meeting John Bingham – he’s one of my heroes!

    • October 30, 2015 at 10:00 am

      You should listen to our Back if Pack Endurance podcast. We had John on.

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