I have decided to stop aging. I’ve tried it now for awhile but it simply doesn’t suit me, so I am giving up on it.
Other people have gone through it, I’m aware, but from what I can observe it almost always turns out badly for them. As lifestyles go, there’s just not much to be said for it in the long run. It will be like giving up cigars, I think. I can expect some lapses from time to time but if I keep at it with grit, determination, will power, and cessation pills I’ll be done with it once and for all, finished, all fixed.
My first unpleasant episode of aging came when I realized my thirty three-year-old beard had somehow turned to a color best described as a glowing, somewhat shimmering, reflective white. Overnight it seemed it stopped lending any dignity to my appearance.
It showed up best in color photographs. Family pictures that Christmas exhibited a strange diffused halo around my face, caused I figure by the camera flash failing to automatically compensate for the extra light. I looked like a skinny Santa Claus. I pointed this out to my wife, expecting her to say I looked just fine but she didn’t dispute it at all.
I had my son adjust the camera settings and reduce the flash down two or three steps. That resulted in a much darker scene with a ghostly white smear where my face should have been. It was present in all of the photos that year. I thought it looked spooky enough I almost sent it off to that Ghost Hunters show as a hoax.
I shaved it off soon afterward but not before asking one of the girls at church if removing my beard would give a more youthful appearance to my face. Sure, she said, but what about the rest of your hair. That’s when I first suspected this aging thing was becoming a serious problem.
My suspicions deepened later as I noticed young female clerks and waitresses abruptly stopped asking to see my ID so they could verify my senior discount status. Before that they just couldn’t believe I was as old as I told them; they thought I was joshing. I had learned that young women clerks are absolutely clueless at guessing ages for anybody between eighteen and fifty-five, so I was frequently carded. Well, ten years on, that doesn’t happen anymore.
Then my back started acting up. I have a slight disk protrusion pinching a nerve; I was born with it. Back in the days when I was not actually aging, muscle strength compensated for the inherent weakness, and I didn’t have any problems. The condition kept me out of the army, though. I was called up for the draft in the mid-1960s but after a couple x-rays, as the recruiter explained it, the possibility of me ever being of any value to the army was zilch. “In your case,” he said, “we’ll take women and children first.”
Some days my back doesn’t bother me at all and treats me right nice. Other days, increasingly, I can’t walk more than a couple hundred feet without a nagging sensation of growing older. The doctor said I should expect that “for a man your age.” I forget what else she may have said; I got stuck at that phrase. I hear that a lot now from medical people, “for a man your age” or something about what is said to be “age-related.”
Some of these people talk about it as if it’s relationship, aging and me, one growing in greater intimacy and deeper maturity and cooperative mutuality, like a couple old friends who know one another truly and well. So far as I can tell, though, it is a one-sided relationship with age taking all I have to offer and never giving much in return. Quoting a four-year-old I once knew, “I can’t like it.”
I should have given it up way before now, maybe during Lent this year, but I forgot. A memory lapse no doubt “age-related.”
Although I won’t be aging anymore, I don’t want to miss the “celebration of life” that my loved ones surely would throw were I to “pass.” So somewhere around the one hundred and tenth anniversary of my twenty-ninth birthday, I’m planning a big to-do featuring a reading from Psalm 71:
And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God,
do not forsake me,
till I make known your strength
to this generation
and your power to all
who are to come.
You will all be invited. And if it happens that I’m not there after all, go right ahead without me and don’t feel bad about it at all. Because the reading continues: “He will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth.”
Russell E. Saltzman is a Lutheran pastor, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
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