Aging, Body and Mind

Published April 25, 2019 in Warp & Woof


Aging, Body and Mind

An Introspection

William Sundwick
As I approach my 72nd anniversary on the planet, I’m beginning to feel old – ever so slightly. I have no physical infirmity that I can conveniently use as an excuse for it. There are no mobility issues, like those my mother suffered from Parkinsons in the last six or seven years of her life.
In fact, I feel rather fit, with my 160-minute per week cardio and core strength workout routine at the gym. I combine that with daily stretching, weights, and balance exercises at home. And I walk three miles per day, weather permitting. Only my feet seemingly keep me from running. My fighting weight is down to about 164 pounds, and I’ve shrunk only about an inch-and-a-half from my maximum height.
I don’t mind looking at myself in the mirror when I shower.
Yet, something has changed recently. Is it my face? I still have a full head of hair (and silver is often seen as distinguished, isn’t it?) I pay attention to grooming my beard, my eyebrows, and get haircuts regularly.
But when I’m at the gym, out and about in the neighborhood, running errands, or at church, I tend to look at other people. Many (most?) are younger. I can tell.
The Body in My Mind

I attribute these feelings to the “body in my mind.” It has undergone changes in the last few years. In some ways it is good, the middle-aged paunch has disappeared (thanks to my discovery of fitness after 60). But there is something else – something in my mind when I think about my body. Is it just the wrinkles and blotches on my face, and those heavier eyelids? Or, perhaps it’s the veil of self-deception dropping, the beginning of the reckoning.
Losing that veil is depressing. For instance, I wonder if I will ever be able to come on to a young, attractive woman again? It’s been at least three years since I sensed anybody noticing me that way. A small dose of flirting might be a palliative.
That body is only subject to decline from here on – the best I can do is arrest the decline, not stop it, certainly not reverse it!
My Mind in the World

It’s not all about my declining body, however. There is also “my mind in the world.” How do I relate to the world? When I look at others, many of them younger, I see their use of a language based on enthusiasm, noticeably lacking in my own verbal communication. You can tell who has that zest for life and who doesn’t, after talking with them only briefly. It’s their use of both verbal and body language. Written language is important when communicating across time and space. But for the flesh-pressing here-and-now, face-to-face verbal, inflection and body language are what count. And the here-and-now (IRL in social media) is the secret to feeling vital.
Whether it’s the automatic assumption on Harris-Teeter senior discount day that I deserve the 5% discount, without the checker asking, or other patronizing business encounters, the world makes me feel old.
Lately, I have convinced myself that it’s those millennials (not just my kids, but the whole cohort) who have the best orientation to the world. Their searching and struggles are compelling, as they were for me at that age. They are my favorite demographic group. It has to do with their focus on the future. I only have the present and regrets about the past. They are always reaching out. They seek community. Those I know are more extroverted than other generations, too. The world is their place.
Time flies …

“Time flies when you’re having fun!” Do we even want time to fly? There isn’t much of it left, after all! Having fun seems to require planning. Real plans need timelines (to guard against procrastination). Those fuzzy “I wish I could …” plans serve little purpose when you get older.
The present must be recognized and seized. You should organize your time in such a way as to increase the odds of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. Thinking about my retirement decision five years ago, I remember the key drivers were: 1) little financial incentive to exceed the Civil Service Retirement System’s “maxing out” at 42 years seniority; 2) asking myself what it would take to keep me on the job; 3) likely organizational deterioration of my operation, regardless of what I did; 4) desire to get out while still healthy!
It was a slam-dunk by mid-2015.
Yes, there are losses in retirement. There’s social loss (collegial relationships), prestige loss (“what do you do?” “I’m retired”), and activity loss (don’t forget to invent replacement activities). Cutting those losses should be the prime objective. All are counteracted by good planning, optimism, and confidence in your legacy. That legacy may mean various things — your organization, your family, or whatever audience you choose.
What comes next? It needn’t be scary. It may be slow (unfortunate, like my mother’s Parkinsons, or step-father’s Alzheimers) or fast (merciful, like my father’s coronary at 81, much later than he was expected to survive). It may be expected or unexpected. It may come as relief from pain, or as easily as dozing off for a nap. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
Sighs and Shrugs

Sighs and shrugs are the appropriate reaction to all this, I guess. None of us is immortal. We do what we can to postpone the inevitable, but it seems foolish to panic about undone deeds, unfinished projects. They’re always unfinished. Is the world a better place for me having been in it all these years? I hope so. But I don’t know about the fullness of time – the final judge. None of us does.

I planned a retirement party for myself after 42 years at the Library of Congress. There weren’t many such parties among my compatriots retiring then. I’m not sure why. I felt I deserved one. I wanted to give those that “survived” me a party; I didn’t need them to give me one. 
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Grandpa with Mira, Dec. 2018

<![endif]–>Was it a wake? It felt like one, but I was present!  

Grandpa and Mira, Dec. 2018

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