BY MARCIA EPSTEIN
Just as my 12-year-old granddaughter will have to get used to the new body she will inhabit for the rest of her life, so I will have to get used to my new body (and brain; a wee tad of memory problems anyone?). Neither of us has acquired this body overnight, and its changes haven’t occurred in leaps and bounds.
Rather, they are small and incremental, until one day both of us have realized that something has happened, something has changed. In my granddaughter’s case, it is puberty creeping up quickly. In my case, it’s old age and its much less exciting ramifications. I haven’t had a cataclysmic event like a fractured hip or a heart attack. I count myself lucky.
The worst surgery I’ve had so far is the removal of two cataracts. But new things hurt every day, new areas are stiff and sore and thus bring again the realization of what I was once able to do and can’t anymore. I once liked to play tennis. That’s out! I can hardly run to catch a bus. My knees won’t cooperate. The doctor tells me I’ve shrunk almost 3 inches. Holy cow, three inches? I must sit down every 3 or 4 blocks to let my back unkink. I find I am taking afternoon naps. I used to laugh at my father when I found him snoring in the easy chair after dinner.
My children are middle-aged. Inside, I still feel middle-aged, or even younger. As someone once said, “I still feel like the young me, but no one else sees it.” So true. And yet, not true also. I’ve lived through enough to know that my life has been long and full, good and bad, full of events and decisions that my older self rues. Am I wiser? Perhaps. But some poor decisions led to what I have now, such as my two wonderful children and four delightful grandchildren. So who’s to say that being unwise when young is always bad?
A friend of mine said she was searching for role models on how to grow old. We are the same age, and I fully understand what she means. What kind of old lady do we want to be? I think I’d like to be like Ruth Bader Ginsburg; wickedly smart and accomplished and not afraid to say what she thinks. I’ve never been a fashionista, never was one of the pretty, popular girls, so in a way old age may be easier for me.
The words “elective surgery” don’t register in my brain. I don’t want to recreate what I had because I never really had it and I never really cared too much. In my brain I might see myself in a silky evening gown, but in my life I still wear jeans and sneakers. And I prefer it that way. My role models are strong women who speak their minds and have an individual look which is not one of youth but of intelligence, feistiness and individuality.
There is no such thing as “an old person.” We are each individually old, as we were individually children, teenagers and adults. We don’t experience old age identically. Germaine Greer said that “Nobody ages like anybody else.” What do we really have in common except an accumulation of years and ailments. Although we may (or may not) be wiser as we get older, I think we remain pretty much who we always were. Though invisible to youth, we don’t feel that much different from the people we once were. Our bodies might, but go to any high school reunion. Don’t we see the Bobby or Johnny we knew, rather than the balding guy with the nametag Bob or John? Oh, at first we’re shocked by the change, but it doesn’t take long to revert to who we once were. At my own reunion, I was still wary of the popular girl, though I told myself I was being ridiculous.
Getting old is a process, unless one has a big event, such as a heart attack or stroke, which catapults one into old age all at once. I’ve heard it said that after 70 it’s patch, patch, patch. A new ache here, a new pain there. If you’re lucky, aging is gradual, with incremental physical, and perhaps mental, losses. There’s no getting around it; it’s going to happen. But what the hey, say I. Aren’t I just myself, who happens now to be old?