I am very comfortable with my age. Which is sixty-three, 63, or LXIII, if you want to get old-fashioned about it.
I am so comfortable that I recently had what I consider to be a big personal breakthrough. When I go to a movie, I now ask the cashier to give me an old-people’s ticket. They never argue, I notice.
A lot of this newfound enlightenment is because I’ve been working on a book about women and aging with my friend Marian Henley, who’s a writer, artist, and cartoonist. We’re calling it Pucker Up! The Subversive Woman’s Guide to Aging With Wit, Wine, Drama, Humor, Perspective, and the Occasional Good Cry.
While working on the book off and on for a year, I’ve thought a lot about our culture’s — and God knows, my own — complete denial of aging. At the rate we are going, Baby Boomers will be calling themselves “middle-aged” (a term most of us only grudgingly took on in our fifties) for the rest of eternity. All of which calls to mind the sixtyish mother in Postcards From the Edge labeling herself middle-aged and being asked by her (truly middle-aged) daughter how many 125-year-old women she knew still roaming the earth.
Most of all, I want to age “well” — even if I don’t have the faintest idea what, exactly, aging well means. Parsing the preceding sentence and my own confusion doesn’t make me feel any better, believe me, but from time to time, I do get glimpses of what I want to be: as poised, defiant, and unapologetic as the soignee older women in Ari Seth Cohen’s irresistible blog, Advanced Style.
The point is, we’re all buying time, trying to stay healthy and vital — but this looking young and pretending to be young business strikes me as imbecilic. Who are we trying to kid?
Which explains why I go around blabbing about my age to anyone who will listen and write a blog with the word geezer in it. What it doesn’t explain, though, is what happened on my recent trip to a new doctor’s office. The office assistants were filling out a form and telling me what tests I needed to schedule when I noticed something very alarming on the form.
Patient’s age? Ninety-nine. Patient’s date of birth? 1913.
I felt like I was having a coronary. “Can you fix that?” I asked in a panicked voice. “I mean, I’m not that old. I wasn’t born in 1913.”
The two young women stared back at me politely, but blankly. No wonder: I was going into a total swivet. My voice, I could swear, cracked. They looked a little concerned, and I could tell they were wondering: What’s wrong with her? What’s the difference between 1913 and 1949, 99 and 63? What’s the biggie?
“Don’t worry,” one of them said. “We’ll get it changed. It’s simple.”
She continued to talk about one of the medical tests and I continued to stare intermittently at the offending numbers. I’m sure my eyes were still bulging with panic, my heart thundering with palpitations.
You call this aging well? I asked myself as I slumped back to the parking lot after my ignominious little semi-breakdown. Really?
No, but I call it consistent throughout my life: Just when you think you’ve got something under control, it bucks you off onto your butt. I’d been here before, and I expect I’ll be coming back again. That’s my new definition of aging well: Not being shocked the next time it happens to me.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)