Monday, September 2, 2019

Are you only as old as you think you are?

Often do you ask yourself the question, “How long would I like to live?” If you’re like me (heaven forbid), this is a question you rarely spend much time pondering. To a large extent, this may be an irrelevant question to ask.  We are not prone to ask the question with statistics in mind. One reason for that is the realization that life expectancies are increasing at a fairly significant rate. In Canada, when I was born in 1952, the life expectancy I was given was 66 years. Today, my life expectancy for someone my age is 81. For whatever reason, I have gained 15 years of living, statistically speaking.   

Many of us seem to prefer the cheerfully fatalistic answer taken from the Doris Day Oscar-winning theme song, “Que Sera Sera” (What will be, will be).  This classic goes on in lilting, mellifluous tones, “The future’s not ours to see”. Although I was only four years old at the time this song was topping the charts, I am reminded of it occasionally because of my wife’s affection for old movies.
Assuming that most of you are too young to know who Doris Day is*, you are highly unlikely to be asking the question at all!

Yesterday, I had a stimulating conversation with a 90-year-old friend. Among other topics, we discussed aging. Phrases like, “You’re only as old as you think you are”, ”It’s about quality not quantity” and “Why do most of us have such a strong drive to survive beyond the statistical norm.?” I commented that Parkinson’s disease has all the attributes of accelerated aging, which prompts me to think more like my 90-year-old friend, than my 67-year-old body would otherwise suggest.
While it might be nice to muse about the possibility of reducing one’s chronological age by simply “thinking younger”, that activity is insufficient in itself. After all, whatever the age, we inevitably must recognize that life is short no matter how young or old we are.

I also disagree with our society’s constant swooning over the young, pursuing a modern age version of a Fountain of Youth. Is there really no merit in getting older? Does human life actually have a “best before date”? I think not. I recognize the extraordinary value in the resilience, enthusiasm and creativity of young people, having spent six years engaging university students. I also acknowledge the unfortunate propensity for at least some of us in our senior years to be complainers, close-minded and self-centered. 

However, I see great value, and have respect for the elderly, as opposed to those of us who are simply older. Many of my senior friends are deep thinkers, love to laugh, challenge my presuppositions and prejudices, and are simply not willing to resign themselves to, “what will be, will be”. The future may not be ours to see, but the present is ours to live.

Accepting the sometimes mind-numbing, body-trembling and rigor mortis-like stiffness, I have an answer to the question, “How long would I like to live?” One engaged-to-the-extent-I-am-able day at a time, with a mind that recognizes not only the troubles of the present but is motivated by the possibilities of the future; thankful I can share the journey with others, both young and old.

*For those of you who might want to know (all three of you!), Doris Day lived to be 97 and died on May 13, 2019.

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