Getting Old Is a Drag and Don't Let Anyone Tell You Different

I want to keep going, even as my body tries to tell me to quit

My back was aching when I wake up this morning. Pretty typical. I struggle out of bed—no sense in lying about. Pushing up to sitting, I feel my left knee squeal a protest. A newer injury, I remember. Bursitis, the doctor in the urgent care center told me.

"You'll have to keep it wrapped for a few weeks. Put ice on it every few hours." Then he gave me a prescription for painkillers, which I didn't fill. Not going to add opiates to my problems.

So, I wrap my knee in an Ace bandage and struggle up the stairs, where my wife greets me with her usual smile and hug. "How'd you sleep, sweetie?" she asks.

"So, so," I tell her. I don't mention the night sweats or tossing and turning. I wish I could be as cheerful as she is in the morning, but that's just not how I feel.

Then it's time for my prednisone. It's for my arthritis and works pretty well. Though I've been told to be on the lookout for some possible nasty side effects: loss of bone density, glaucoma, growing a tail—like that. But at least I can open and close a jar and feed myself. There are other vitamins and supplements to come, but I won't bore you with the details more than I already have.

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The thing is, I've gotten old and rickety. Sort of snuck right up on me. One day, I was 25 and running full speed, and somehow the next day, I am in my 70s and laboring to climb the damn stairs. Getting old is a drag. Don't let anyone tell you any different. At least the physical part. The human body was simply not designed to last this long. Like an old car, our parts wear out and no longer function as they should. How many 1940s-era automobiles do you see driving down the street? You can replace some of the parts, but it's still not going to run very well or very far—the car or your old body. I've considered having a knee or two replaced, and may even do that soon, but will that really make much of a difference? Perhaps all my aches and pains are simply telling me it's time to give up. Keep the car in the garage, maybe take it out for a spin on Sunday.

But I'm not going to do that. I'm not ready, despite my age, despite the latest injury or insult. Instead, I'm going to commit to keeping on. Once I get this knee squared away (OK, I'll wear the darn ace bandage and slather it with ice), I'm getting back in the surf. I don't care how foolish I might look. All the youngsters out there can laugh at the old man on his longboard but maybe they might respect me for trying. Fact is, some of those kids have told me as much. Maybe I have to make some compromises. I can't be as reckless as I was when I was 30, but I can still catch a few good waves. And the payoff for that is pretty high. I feel alive then. And that's a really good thing, no matter the number on your birth certificate.

My wife and I are not going to quit traveling. That's one of the benefits of old age: having the time and resources to just pick up and go, to see places you've never seen before and to experience cultures different than your own. We've got a trip planned now to Montreal, where I plan to eat my way through every part of town. Sure, walking might be limited, but that's why public transportation was invented. And, if I get sore or cranky (which is sure to happen), I'll retreat to our hotel room and soak in the bathtub while Bev goes shopping. She's much more durable than I am.

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So, I guess what I'm saying is that I want to keep going, even as my body tries to tell me to quit: "Give it up, old man. You've had your day." A siren song I will not follow. Not yet. Sure, there will come a time when there are no more options. I can feel that out there somewhere. Some of my friends have already gone down that road. Every week, I hear of more in trouble. The obituaries are required reading and memorial services are old folks' cocktail parties.

Death is not something I fear. It's waiting for all of us—the only thing we know for certain. In some way, that endpoint is a comfort and a challenge. I will someday—not too far in the future—be free of pain. But until that day comes, I will, as the poet said, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

For now, well, I'm going to have a good breakfast and limp on down to the beach. Just to watch, that is.

Tags: aging