Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Age is a question of matter over mind

I do like the fact that my not being able to drive means Tom chauffeurs me around.  This is an excellent time to natter at him.  Yesterday I found myself talking about how old age creeps up on us slowly, slowly, then, yow, fast.  Specifically, I recounted his father's story.  Jim was around 80 when he discovered he could not lift the 40-foot extension ladder to get up and clean the gutters.  (Italics his.) This fact impressed him so much that he told me the story at least twice, on different visits.  He had grown old when he wasn't looking. He couldn't get over it.

I was just a kid of, let's see, age 57, and believe me, I knew more than I know now, 12 years later.  I was prone to including in my practice The Five Remembrances (which you can find at the very bottom of this blog), for the purpose of being in touch with grim realities.  So my unspoken reaction to Jim's astonishment was, Jim, you're 80. Of course you're old. Get it over it.

But now I know that somehow age does creep up on you.  Watching yourself change is rather like watching a sunset, as I have often done, speculating on just how I would make that color with watercolors.  But "that color" is already gone, no longer apricot, now in the soft coral range, and so on.  And I didn't see it change.  I just see that it changed when I glanced away.

As I have gone around doing little quality-of-life things today, I have had the thought that the word "old" or even "age" is a concept, a label that tends to be encumbered by judgements firmly implanted by our culture.  It amused me to look up a quote from Satchel Paige, whose autobiography is titled Maybe I'll Pitch Forever---
Age is a question of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, age don't matter.
Satchel Paige in younger days
I couldn't help thinking, Yes, but it does matter. Aging is like a puppy who's got hold of a book (or a couch) and is thoroughly demolishing it.  The book gets in shreds whether you ignore it or watch.  Eventually, those who don't get hit by a flaming arrow of misfortune die of old age.  In Paige's case, it was a long season of heart trouble and emphysema that ended when he was, perhaps, 75 years old - he liked to be mysterious about his age. He had not been pitching those last uncomfortable years.

I'm just carrying on here because yesterday I woke up slowly from a long, good sleep, to realize my middle back was hurting, right there in the spine where there are severely deteriorated bones.  After a sleep like that I usually (or used to) wake up relaxed and pain-free.

It would all be so much easier if Wun felt that getting older meant automatically advancing to a position of respect, if Wun became An Elder Who Had Seen Many Things.  The baby Boomers, who are a few years behind me, have famously changed the culture at every age they went through.  But they've got the wrong idea about age: they think you can prevent it.  Like Ponce de Leon, looking for the Fountain of Youth, and he really was, I gather.

What I'd like to see happen is for the Boomers to realize old age is (usually) inevitable, and that our best shot is to make it gleam.  I know they can do it if they try.

And here's an irresistable bonus (from Wikipedia)

Paige's Guide to Longevity
To a world that marveled at his stamina as a 59-year-old pitcher, Satchel Paige often offered these ''master's maxims'' as his guide to longevity:
1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

[The puppy photo is from a blog by a very much younger woman.]


  1. If Duck tape, super glue, or bailing wire doesn't fix it...nothing will but a sense of humor.

  2. As one of the baby boomers who realizes full well that old age is inevitable, I laugh at the commercials for products to make one look younger, research that aims to "reverse aging" (What? Only a time machine can do that.), and the like. Having been through a plethora of health setbacks long before the typical age at which such things start to appear, I often feel old before my time--especially when I compare my abilities with those around me. A good many of my friends are older than I yet are in significantly better condition. When my mother was 80, she and I were experiencing many of the same things...now THAT was a shake-up. Despite my feet, knees, hips, back, and neck reminding me every day that, like everything else, the body does wear out, I think of 80 as the age when one truly is old. Until then, we're agING, not agED. My goal, though perhaps unrealistic, is to reach age 80...to live at least long enough to be as old as I feel. In the meantime, I'm doing my best to adapt when I can and accept when I have to (though I still grumble about abilities fried a decade ago). My body feels too old to work hard physically, and yet when I push it to do just that, I find I'm not as old as I feel or sometimes think. And though I'm full of "can'ts" of my own making...just try telling me I can't do something ...and by God, I will do it! Yes. My best shot...our best shot...is to make it--aging, as well as age--gleam. Despite my body often arguing otherwise, I learn over and over again that age is, as are many things in life, a case of both mind over matter and matter over mind. Yes. Make it gleam...I know I can do it...I know we can do it...if we try.

  3. That's some good wisdom from Mr. Paige!
    Jeanne, I'm encouraged. Already when I wake up my back feels like a bag of broken parts! Hooray! Bah, I've felt like I was at least 10 years older since I was a kid, so wherever I end up, I've already been there :)

  4. Hello SK, and thank you. Everyone who commented is obviously a kindred soul. I too was a little adult, though not an only child, but an oldest, with 6 years before the terrible events, birth of a brother and then a cute sister. Always felt older than all the other kids, fate of the somewhat brainy poet. Now it's true physically as well. We are going to our church's senior lunch tomorrow so I can enjoy being around a bunch of people in about as bad condition as me. It's been a great leveler.