Sue came in complaining about her aching back and about being tired after spending a hot day weeding the garden. I said, "Well, stop acting like you're 50." I'm pretty sure we had something I don't like for dinner that night, or at least I did.
I didn't mean it as an insult; it's just that getting older sneaks up on you. Some days you wonder, why can't I read more than a few pages of a book at night without falling asleep? I used to be able to read for hours at a time. "I'm old" wasn't my first thought. When you ask someone to twist off the cap on a jar of salsa for you, "I'm old" isn't your first thought. When people start talking about spending the winter in Florida, "I'll never do that, it's for old people" won't be your first thought.
It's not as if Sue and I are old old, but we both wish we were only 50 again -- back when we could get out of a chair after watching an hour of TV without feeling like someone had rabbit-punched us in the kidneys. Back when people passing us on the freeway didn't flash us rude hand gestures for going so slow. Back when we only had one doctor, and we knew his name and what we were paying him for. Now we get bills from doctors we've never heard of for tests we don't remember taking.
"Was that the one where they stuck that thing down my throat, or the one where they stuck that thing up the other end?"
"No," Sue says, "that was last month. This is the bill for the MRI on your knee."
"That doesn't seem as expensive as we thought."
"This is just the bill for the guy who took the results from the technician, walked them down the hall and handed them to the doctor. We haven't gotten the real bills yet."
And we're some of the lucky ones. Neither of us are on chemo; we can still walk, we have our own teeth and the kids aren't asking us who's going to get Grandma's dishes when we croak. Yet.
The surprise is how getting old sneaks up on you. The first time you get a free copy of the AARP magazine in the mail, your first reaction is to hide it from your friends and family. "I'm not old," you think. "I'm only 50! Why are they sending this to me? There must be some mistake." It takes about seven years before you stop tossing it automatically into the garbage. At some point, you start reading every issue word for word. You look at the famous people on the cover and realize that they are your age. And they don't look so bad. Of course they don't look bad -- they have personal trainers and personal chefs and they're wearing makeup and a $500-an-hour stylist has just fluffed their hair.
Remember, when anybody on TV says that 50 is the new 30, or that 60 is the new 40, or that 70 is the new 50, they aren't talking about you. They're talking about Cher. She's 68 and looks great -- but that's her job! Think how fantastic you would you look if you got paid to spend eight hours a day exercising, stretching, tweezing, dieting and shopping. That's not even mentioning nips and tucks, capped teeth and hair weaves.
Madonna's 55. Harrison Ford is 71. Sean Connery is 83. So that's four people -- out of 6 billion -- who don't look their age. And for all we know, they all need help opening a new jar of mayonnaise when they're at home.
I'm not relishing the prospect of becoming feebler and feebler, but the trick is not to pretend to be young. The trick is learning how to be old.