Aging and Relativity

Today I am nominally a year older. I don’t think I feel any older, but there are certainly times when I feel OLD! I hope I don’t look as old as I feel physically, but I’m pretty sure I look older than I feel mentally.

It is axiomatic that old age, like the mountains in the distance when you’re driving toward them, retreats as you approach it. Thirty-year-olds seem ancient to teenagers, but you can be heading into your sixties without having been willing to acknowledge that you have reached “middle age.” Similarly, it is by no means original to remark that, the older you get, the younger young people look. What concerns me these days is that I no longer seem to be able to very accurately judge people’s ages relative to mine. I do pretty well if they are very much younger or older, but if they are close in age, I tend to misjudge most of the time. I am often surprised to learn that people I thought were older than I are actually the same age or younger.

Obviously, I no longer know what I look like. This is not surprising. I don’t spend a lot of time looking at myself. But I also don’t spend a lot of time looking at my husband; after all, I know what he looks like. (Perhaps he doesn’t really look at me, either, which could be why he still thinks he likes my looks.) I suspect this is universal: we never really look at the people we know best, especially if we are with them all the time. It is when we encounter people we haven’t seen in a long time that we are shocked by how much they have aged (and they’re probably thinking the same about us).

In most cases, though, we still recognize them, presumably because we are relating to something deeper than appearance. My mother, who lived to be 86, could have been said to be “old before her time,” at least physically. Despite her unusually youthful appearance, she had been afflicted with arthritis in her knees from a relatively early age and ultimately was quite crippled by it. Two knee replacements helped, but by the time she had the second one, the heart murmur she’d had since her teens had begun to slow her down, and osteoporosis (partly resulting from acquired lactose intolerance) had deformed her posture. She’d been plagued by psoriasis all her life, and, like her mother, she had become increasingly deaf, again beginning at a relatively early age. So she struggled with multiple handicaps and trials. Yet she often remarked that the most cruel part of aging was that she didn’t feel any different inside—in her heart she was still a teenager.

I don’t entirely agree. Although I still have most of the same faults I had as a teenager, I hope I have gained a little control over some of them. Although I may not have retained all the knowledge I had in college, I hope I have acquired at least a little wisdom and experience.

And there are compensations for being and/or looking “old.” You are sometimes treated with increased respect—not always welcome: I don’t know which surprised me more, being called “ma’am” for the first time or being addressed as “miss” when I was very obviously pregnant with my first child! I’ve gotten used to being called “ma’am,” but I’m still insulted if someone gets up to give me a seat (no matter how grateful I may be).

One of the greatest compensations for growing old, I’m told, is grandchildren, and I guess I will soon find out, as I have learned I’m to become a grandmother next spring. I suspect the experience may be as transformative as having children was (I’m not ga-ga yet, but I’ve been assured this comes naturally), and I look forward to finding out.

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1 Response to Aging and Relativity

  1. Luc Sanders says:

    Suzanne,
    Congratulations, grandma. We are not there yet. Although it is looking promising with my oldest daughter.
    Funny you should mention getting old, just this week we received a folder urging us to join the many 55+ in an attempt to stay fit. For a brief moment I thought, why are they sending this to me? But soon came the realisation that I am one of them
    Luc

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