Two thousand twenty-three has been a year of rapid-fire aging immersion for me. Of course, I, like everyone else, have been aging – forever. I didn’t notice it much and didn’t take the time to think about what it meant in my youth, adult-hood, and senior status.
When I reached my eighties, this inevitable, stubborn process began to take on an intensified presence in my consciousness. In the past, I could just bounce from one negative, somewhat normal event related to aging, e.g., cataract surgery, get through the procedure, and keep going. Now, the frequency of such occurrences is relentless both for me and those I care about making it almost impossible to just slink through as I used to. The time between incidents has become shorter so that healing interludes offer a diminished capacity for absorbing and adjusting to a new reality, and any required adaptations.
For people my age, COVID was the beginning of an unprecedented aging era. Some friends and relatives contracted the disease, and a few of the most-frail died. Since I was healthy when the pandemic began and I took all of the necessary precautions, I was spared any bad outcomes. How pleased I was with myself for withstanding the virus and staying well. I now acknowledge my hubris because I have learned that the simple process of aging continues inexorably on its own no matter what routines or disasters may be happening.
As I approach the end of this year, my mind is full of aging reminders. I try not to be drawn into melancholic thoughts, but it is hard not to worry and wonder. What’s going to happen next? Who will become a casualty? I can’t know the answers to either of these questions. However, I do know that the getting-older inevitabilities are hovering ready to land. The “wheres,” “whos,“ and whens” are mysteries and will remain that way until they are revealed.
I find myself saying “you just never know” a lot. This phrase has become my newfound truth. I was perfectly fine for a mid-eighty-year-old taking no medications and leading a pretty active life. Then, early this year, one day I was fine and the next day I wasn’t. I was blind-sided by an out-of-the-blue health problem. I got through that pretty well with a few physical and emotional residuals. However, that episode permanently altered my life. Mostly, people can’t notice any changes in me, but they are not inside me experiencing my being. Only I truly know what’s the same and what’s different.
I’m back doing most of what I used to do – like writing articles. But just when I feel I’ve made some progress, I find the increased frequency of deaths, sad diagnoses, and dementia among family and friends to be a bit disheartening.
Unfortunately, these unhappy things will continue and likely to accelerate. That is the nature of aging. Each of us must deal with that actuality in a way that makes sense for them. I have been thinking a lot about what my appropriate response should be. The best that I have come up with is to have a purpose robust enough to take me from today to tomorrow. I must continue to tell stories –ones that have meaning to me and, hopefully, others. These stories are mostly simple ones – about ordinary lives and experiences like our personal yet, universal, encounters with aging.
I can’t stop getting older. I can only hunker down, stick to my purpose, and tentatively find my way into the future until who knows where or when.