With the approach of every decade of my life (beginning at age 30 or maybe 20), I have had a difficult encounter with being “old.” Well, the thing is I am getting closer and closer to a decade number I can’t even put down in this letter. It’s *&!?# old. I feel fine physically, but not mentally. Do you have any advice?
Dear Old Soul,
Did you ever see an exquisite yet underappreciated show called, “Fire Safety and Time Travel With a Side of Slaw”?
Of course you didn’t. It was my one-woman show that I put on while in rehab and the only person who saw it was my boyfriend/stage manager except for the night he missed it and I worked the light board myself. No worries. I can give you a recap here: a young woman approaches 30 and realizes she is wearing a wetsuit of regret and loss. She just wants to be a little girl again so she tries to stop time. It doesn’t work. She raps about fire safety instead.
Old Soul, I don’t know if you are approaching 40 or four score and seven years, but it truly doesn’t matter. You sound like this age thing is weighing you down, and I get it. Aging really hurts. It hurts the ego. It hurts the mind. It hurts when it’s humid out or when I try to lift a case of Ensure without bending my knees but sometimes my knee doesn’t want to bend that much.
And guess what? By the time you read this word, you’ll already be older.
So let’s dissect this, please. Are you upset about actually growing older and the physical and mental limitations that age can bring? Or are you looking at the D word and trying to run the other way? Either way, I hope you know that:
1. You’re not alone
2. You need to check out the discounts at movies, busses, diners, drugstores, etc., and
3. Gloria Steinem is making octogenarianism hottttt
Remember when Halley’s comet was supposed to do that flash dance across the sky back in 1986? Of course you do—you’re OLD. I was 12 at the time, which is a mathematical hint to how old I am now. My dad had just died and I was scared of the dark. I was also scared of the telephone, oncologists, and my reflection in the mirror. But the night Halley’s comet was coming to town, I felt energized and purposeful. My mom woke me up at some wee hour and we drove down to the nearest beach in Westchester with her best friend. We stood on a patch of cool grass and wrapped one of the blankets from our couch around us and took turns with my dad’s fancy binoculars. We gazed and searched and oohed and aahed at the twinkling confetti above us.
I never found that damn comet.
I wanted to so badly. I wanted to witness this phenomenon not because I was a stargazer or astronaut-hopeful. More because I couldn’t get it out of my head that it only happened every 75 years, which meant the next time Halley graced us with its presence, I could very well be dead—maybe even floating in that nebula next to Saturn.
“If you’re not getting older, you’re dead.” – Tom Petty
Thanks for that, Tom.
Old Soul, here are some things that I think get better with age:
3. Friendships that involve sex
4. Cowboy boots
5. Body odor
6. Going to the YMCA
7. Experimenting with fanny pack fashions
8. Eating chocolate in bed and then refusing to brush my teeth
I remember things like the Berlin Wall coming down. The Twin Towers being up. I was here for Janet Jackson’s nip slip and grew up trusting in gluten. Those are all incredible gifts. If you don’t trust a preserved fishball, there’s also this: The other day I heard a fantastic interview with Roger Angell, who is a senior fiction editor at The New Yorker and just wrote a book of essays called “This Old Man: All in Pieces.” Angell talked to Leonard Lopate on NPR about what it feels like to hobble towards the age of 100.
He is so eloquent and hilarious and sounds so young. He talks about memorizing poetry to keep his brain active, because sometimes his words take a hike in the middle of a sentence. He laughs at the surprise of new love and what it feels like when people pretend they can’t hear the old guy in the room. He doesn’t whitewash the fears or frustrations, but he does enjoy himself. I love especially when he says the need to succeed falls away.
Old Soul, I can spout platitudes and adult diaper jokes all day, but I know that won’t ease the fear or pain. I just want you to know that we are all feeling it with you. And when it comes to the mystery of what comes next, your guess is most certainly better than mine.
I have known people who lived to be 100 and people who lived just a few days. To me, that is proof that we as humans cannot possibly figure out the rhymes and reasons of our lifespan. And we must be part of a continuum. When one of my best friends died at the age of 40, she spent the last few days of her life with her eyes wide open. I looked into those beautiful, deep brown orbs and I wondered what she was seeing, whether she was memorizing this world before she left. Her words were gone, but I trust she felt us all around her, celebrating her life as it ended.
Old Soul, please keep your eyes wide open. Tell the people you love that you love them. Fart near the people who annoy you. Cash in on the discounts. Take pictures of the sky, and the sea, and your lover’s nose hairs. Write letters to your younger self and/or your kids. Make lists of all the places you’ve lived, people you’ve slept with, jobs you’ve loved, drugs you tried, cars you’ve driven.
Pay your library fines.
And above all, come back to today. It’s pretty freaking amazing.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.