By George Rede
Wasn’t that long ago that a friend was coming up on another birthday and I was asked to dig out my old CD with The Beatles’ familiar song.
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
Personally, I’ve still got my hair and it’s been a long time since I was out till quarter to three, but now it’s me who’s approaching 64. Yikes.
I will turn 63 in December, so I’ve got another 16 months to go before the Lennon-McCartney classic applies.
But every day, it seems, there’s something tangible to remind me that I’m not getting any younger.
- Saturday’s mail brought a postcard inviting to me attend a free presentation on how to maximize Social Security.
- Friday night, I watched a movie with Lori (“While We’re Young”) about a married couple in their mid-40s who befriend a couple of 20-something hipsters. Energized by their newfound friends’ carefree approach to life and work, they find themselves confronting who they used to be and what they hoped to do.
- Soon, we’ll head to Washington, D.C., to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary with a bike tour of the national monuments — a trip organized by Road Scholar, the education-travel nonprofit formerly known as Elderhostel.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not freaking out about my age, either now or in the future. After all, I’ve been through enough milestone birthdays to feel the weirdness of each one at 40, 50 and 60, and then move on. I don’t feel 62 — not by a long shot — and I’d like to think I keep up with pop culture and technology as well as, if not better, than most of my peers, while maintaining a regular workout routine.
I even got a compliment recently from our daughter, who told me after a recent session at the gym that i looked “skinny.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it was nice to hear nonetheless.
Even before the latest trio of reminders, the topic of aging has been front and center.
I wrote recently about Susie Reimer, the 63-year-owner of the Humdinger, and her uncertain prospects for a comfortable retirement even after 35 years of running a burger stand. Hers is a story shared by millions of boomers who’ve taken a hit because of layoffs, stock market losses, stagnant wages and a shift from pensions to 401(k) accounts as the primary driver of retirement savings.
A few days later, The New York Times ran a story about one business owner who was offering more flexible work arrangements to her mostly older workforce — not just to take advantage of their experience but also to accommodate employees who need to work past their normal retirement age.
“From 1985 to 2014,” the story noted, “the rate of participation in the labor force for people 65 to 69 increased to almost 32 percent from about 18 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
Another piece, with the foreboding headline “8 reasons you won’t retire at 65,” declared the dream of retiring at that age all but dead for those who haven’t saved enough.
None of that comes as a surprise. But here’s what did:
I went to see Jackson Browne in concert this month and it was a terrific show. He’s vital as ever, still performing at 66, but what a shock during the intermission to see his fans using canes and walkers to make their way to the restrooms. These are my peers?
A few days later in the newsroom, I was writing a short update on a 72-year-old man with dementia who’d been reported missing in the Washington County suburbs. He’d been found safe at a park two cities away, but no one knew how he’d gotten there. I began to write a headline and turned to a fellow editor.
“Would you call a 72-year-old man ‘elderly’?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “my mother is near that age and I know she wouldn’t appreciate it if you did.”
In that moment, I realized, wait, I’m only ten years younger than that guy. And I thought of another friend who was out on a backpacking trip in the mountains at age 76.
Seventy-two is elderly? Who am I kidding?
I’m not fretting about the slow march of time. I gave up racquetball and basketball long ago, knowing those sports were behind me, but I still love running and enjoy swimming, even if my pace is slower than before.
I don’t do Sudoku or crossword puzzles, but I certainly do my share of reading.
And though I retain a fondness for cheeseburgers and ice cream, my tendencies are greatly moderated by Lori’s influences in the kitchen, steering — and sometimes directing — me to healthier alternatives with fruits, veggies, seafood and white meat,
I need only look across the table at my personal trainer wife to be reminded of the three cornerstones to healthy living: nutrition, exercise and attitude.
As long as my body works and my mind stays sharp, I’m sure I’ll get by just fine in our youth-oriented culture. What’s that saying? “You’re only as old (or young) as you feel?”
Might as well let Paul have the last word:
More reading: “Hiking around America” by Gabrielle Raia-Elise Akimoff