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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Do You Believe "Age Is Just a State of Mind"

I am a stout realist about most of the transactions in life. I am pretty sure whoever said "Age is just a state of mind" was speaking with tongue-in-cheek false optimism. As I age, I miss my youth and the opportunities this youth presented to my younger being. Aging causes the body and mind to fail with regularity. And sadly, reliance on consistency of one's state of mind becomes fickle as reactions to an accumulation of little annoyances seem to matter more.

Hell, face it: getting older requires constant adjustment and imminent self compromise. I find myself cornered in the constricting room of time. I am not talking about age as a total detriment or a supreme handicap, but I am saying that a complex process like aging cannot be summed up in an offhand comment like "just a state of mind."

I feel it's very important to relate that desires and passions fiercely resist the pressures of aging. Still, experience teaches that age presents changes in emotions. With thoughtful restraint and limited exuberance, maturity mandates diminishing passionate returns  While anticipation slows as routine grows, fervor becomes more of a memory than a mode of peak operation. Repeatedly conditioned to behave and marred by irrational, quick, past decisions, the older person finds that spontaneity suffers greatly. Desires and passions begin to take their proper shelf space in the storeroom of an aging memory.

Imagine the changes required to fulfill the different roles of people's relationships: for example, friend to spouse to father to grandfather. Each role requires considerable changes in responsibility, outlook, and behavior. Yet, many find themselves prematurely fulfilling their parts without proper development and experience due to circumstances beyond their control, and these people rely on trial and error although they desire and expect perfection in maturation. Such fate-related timing is anything but optimal for the smoothest transition of aging.

Of course, definite physical changes occur during the aging process. These changes can begin as gentle reminders of deterioration, or the changes can quickly fragment a healthy life. As people age, they slowly develop a keener understanding of their physical limitations brought about by age. To ignore these constraints often leads to disastrous outcomes. The psychological effects of coming to grips not only with lines and wrinkles but also with
limited mobility and dulled thinking are often worse than the toll on the body. The vicious teeth of monstrous age can rip strong wills and positive self-concepts with little immunity.

The aging process also transforms once vogue, societal individuals into dated, introspective souls. Those people who do attempt to keep fashionable are often scorned by others as narcissistic, egocentric fools humiliating themselves by drinking from a fountain of youth in their fanciful associations.

Because many other older people embrace the worn ideals of their own youth, young onlookers see them as stagnant relics of the past.Getting older presents people a choice of two oddities -- (1) playing the foolish hipster, or (2) accepting the mantle of dowdy geezer. Most older beings never receive the complimentary title of "keeper of wisdom" as a respected elder.

Many people never really consider getting old until their first signs of aging appear. Until then, they often distance themselves from such thoughts through avoidance or internal categorization. Age does not rub off and is not a
contagious condition -- generation gaps beg for bridges. Avoidance is usually only followed by increased apprehension upon discovery. And, people who insist upon categorizing their older selves as "young" are attempting to cheat fate by some voodoo thought process.

Clint Eastwood once said, "If you take yourself seriously you're not going to be able to move forward and use your best artistic instincts. You're going to be hampered by always wanting to look in the mirror and see if you have enough tuna oil on your hair or something like that." (Andrew Zuckerman, Wisdom, 2008) Eastwood may strike a chord for those intent on taking the reality of aging as simple fantasy.

At 58, I'm not ready to make statements about the wisdom of aging. I look at aging this way. In my youth, I owned a '65 Mustang convertible with an 8-track player featuring songs by the Doors, CCR, and the Beatles among others. The 289 hypo V-eight engine made the sports car fast and fun to drive. By today's standards, the Mustang was simply engineered. Yet, by today's standards, the car is still a classic, much like the music accompanying the sound of the shifting gears.

I still drive that Mustang nearly every day. I pick up friends, enjoy our antics, and look for new, unknown roads to travel. For whatever reason, I keep the machine immaculately clean and running smoothly. The car has aged but, somehow, shows no wear. The only change is the status - now, it is a magic carpet running on fantastic desire. I still drive the Mustang, only today, my driving is done with my eyes closed and the car is probably scrap.

"To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living."  ~Henri Amiel

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