Old is a relative concept, like an aged aunt or a cantankerous geriatric grandfather.
Old is someone else’s age. When we’re in our teens, old is the nearly unimaginable decrepitude of forty.
(That, by the way, is why older people generally find teens so annoying.)
For geologists, old is half a billion years or more. For cosmologists, old is measured in many billions of years. But for us humans, old is measured against the “standard candle” of the average rich-country lifespan, which is somewhere in the mid-seventies.
Therefore, I am by this standard now officially old.
Which I think stands for On Life’s Downhill-stretch.
In my head I’m somewhere around 17,831 years old. I hated the Ice Age and was very excited when global warming finally melted the Bering Straits. On my watch we killed the last of the woolly mammoths and accidentally invented agriculture, which in an entirely unplanned way led to the rise of the city-state and ultimately to nations.
I remember the early records of stored grain done by equivalence counting which meant marking symbols on soft clay tablets that looked exactly like the things being counted, only much smaller and in just two dimensions. Eventually we gave up on the effort of drawing bales of hay and sheaves of corn and just made little marks; no one expected this to lead to mathematics, but it did.
Anyhow, here I am now, aged beyond belief on the inside but according to my birth certificate a more factual and far more youthful sixty years plus a handful of months.
What continues to shock me is how old people my age appear.
I don’t understand why, because frankly being old sucks.
Thirty-five years ago I was working out in the makeshift gym in the cellar of Hertford College, Oxford. I’d gone for a six-mile run prior to the gym and was coming to the end of a two-hour workout when someone else came into the gym. He asked me, “you working out for a competition or something?” Without thinking, I replied, “I’m working out for old age. I’ve heard it’s no place for the weak.”
That probably sounded glib but I wasn’t being flippant: I saw every second spent exercising as an investment in an unknown future, as well as something that paid huge dividends in the present. And I never stopped.
All my life I’ve run, I’ve hit the gym at least five days per week, and I’ve continued to get into the wilderness at every possible opportunity. Four years ago I did the Fan Dance back-to-back and both times were well within Selection cut-off for the Reserves, or to put it another way, very satisfactory for someone twelve to fifteen years younger than I actually was.
This probably sounds like tedious bragging but the serious point is that our bodies begin to age pretty rapidly after we hit thirty. Unless we make an equally serious effort to maintain ourselves, we start to feel aches and pains, our energy decreases, our sexual capacity diminishes, and in short we begin ever-more to resemble not healthy happy individuals but flabby sacks of aches and pains.
And who wants that?
Oddly, the answer seems to be “nearly everyone” because when I look around, nearly everyone is far from where they could be and they’re not happy about it. But they’re also not not-happy enough to do anything about it.
And that puzzles me.
The most common reason I hear for lack of self-care is “I don’t have the time.”
This puzzles me too.
Because we all have the same amount of time. Your clock doesn’t run faster than mine. Your minutes aren’t shorter than the ones I get to experience.
What people mean is, they let their time slip through their fingers as though it wasn’t the single most precious thing we’ll ever have in our too-brief flickering moment of existence.
How much time do people spend doing things that don’t contribute to their well being? I knew a lovely woman who took more than two hours every morning doing her makeup. Those two hours surely could have been better spent on more important and more rewarding activities.
I knew a man who sat slumped on the sofa for five hours each evening watching trite TV shows that didn’t make him happy, didn’t help him learn or discover anything, and didn’t contribute in any meaningful way to his life. Yet he spent thirty-five hours per week gazing blankly at the flickering screen. That’s more than four working days per week, month in and month out.
Sure, I don’t expect everyone to be like me.
For example, and very annoyingly, many people are taller and some are more good-looking too. I have a special gift for such people which I call envy.
I recognize I’m unusual, probably a bit odd, and have a far greater consciousness of the inevitability of death than most people I’ve met. This death-awareness, which I’ve had since the age of eight, is what has driven me all my life to make the most of every moment. It’s what drives me to stay on top of my self-administration so that I can enjoy the most my life has to offer, instead of being too weak and full of aches and pains to get out and truly live.
Perhaps if more people were a little more conscious of their imminent demise they’d be more eager to make the most of the time they have. It can be quite an amazing ride, if you’re able to squeeze into the carriage.
Alternatively, I hear there’s a great new series on Netflix starting tomorrow…
It’s your choice.
And it always has been.