No matter how you cut it, aging is a very weird trip. Think about it this way: If you want to become a credible scholar and get a Ph.D., it'll take you maybe 25 years, counting some time off.
On the other hand, I've put in 64 years of continuous aging and still can't figure out what's going on.
I think it's all tied up with consciousness. When you're a wee little kid, you don't have much of one. Sure, you know you and some other people and things exist, but that's about it.
Then you get sucked into the vortex called school. Now you're learning all sorts of things vital for you to become a model citizen. At the same time and strictly by accident, you also learn things about life.
What I learned first, perhaps because I was in a K-through-12, was that all humankind could be divided into three main classes: Little Kids, Big Kids, and Adults.
Adults were further sub-divided into young and old ones. Young ones ranged from their early 20s to 50 or so; beyond that, everyone was just plain O-L-D.
The most important group to me was the Big Kids, the teenagers. They were much older, for sure, but not impossibly so. Thus some glorious day I'd be one myself. And what a magnificent thing that'd be, because teenagers were it. They looked cool, they walked cool, they talked cool. And it was their talking that really got to me. They'd stroll by in groups, talking about Things of Importance, as opposed to my peers, whose conversation was one step above baby talk.
Not that I heard what the teenagers said, or could've understood it if I did - it just looked important.
Of course I eventually became a teenager. It was a long and painful process, but I did it. After all those years of being stuck in the Romper Room of Life, I was now one of the Big Kids myself. And guess what? The other big kids, my classmates, were no cooler than me. And worst of all was what they talked about. Not only was it not important, but most of it was downright silly.
Of course I was disappointed. But being the resilient lad I was, I knew the maturity and worldliness I sought was right down the road, in college, or maybe sooner if I was lucky. I wasn't lucky: As I got older, my peers still stayed as callow and moronic as me. Even worse, a lot of people older than me were nothing to write home about either.
And so it continued - through college, the service and beyond. Looking for an age when enlightenment automatically and universally kicked in was like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: The closer I got to it, the farther away it became.
So I gave up looking for it. Instead, I did what I should've been doing the whole time, - namely, trying to figure out where I was at. And here's the weird thing: Where I was at (as far as I could see) stayed the same, from age 30 to 50. Of course I had to have changed in all sorts of ways, but I couldn't see it. Physically, mentally and emotionally, I was just me. And I stayed "just me" till my late 50s, when I started to notice some major changes.
The most immediate and prevalent ones were physical.
Plotting a Dopish decline
I don't think I'm excessively vain (then again, who does?), but as a matter of course I look in the mirror a bunch of times a day. So for 25 years whenever I look, looking back is the same old me - or so I think. But obviously I'm completely blind to what's going on. The mirror isn't lying, but I am - to myself. And what I'm especially lying about is my hair color: To me, it looks as it always has, which is why whenever I filled out a form describing my hair color, I put "brown."
Finally, after seeing recent pictures of myself (and some not so recent) I realize it's not brown - it's white all of it!
That was just the first sign my middle age was over. Now I realized that in The Great Race of Life, I was heading into the final turn before the backstretch.
Next, I noticed I could no longer stay up late or sleep late.
After that, food started tasting less flavorful.
Then it seemed everyone was talking softly. Also, my car stereo didn't play as loud when I put the volume where I always had. After a while I had to admit the problem didn't lie with either other people's projection or my car's speakers, but with my hearing.
But where I most noticed my decline was with my running.
Par for the course
Actually, calling what I do running is like calling what Rupert Murdoch does reputable journalism. In my 20s and 30s, I ran. In my 40s and 50s I jogged. Now, at best what I do is what I call "stobble" - a combination of stumble and hobble.
There are two reasons I stobble. They're called my knees. Not that they're injured or there's even anything wrong with them. Just is, they've got 64 years of wear and tear on them and don't work as well as they used to. So they hurt. At times, they even hurt when I'm doing very little, and they hurt all the time when I run. But they never hurt so much that I've had to give up stobbling and take up macrame, mah jong and cable TV.
So I'm slow and awkward and a shuffling shadow of the runner I used to be. But does that bother me? Not at all. And why should it? I'm doing the best I can, and there's nothing more you can ask or expect of anyone.
Plus there's an extra oddball benefit to my efforts - they seem to impress people my age or older. A perfect example was a conversation I had with Al Pozzi a few weeks ago.
Al and I were chatting about what were up to and I told him I was running more in an effort to get into better shape, and how much harder it was to do that now than it'd ever been.
"Funny," he said. "I see you running now, and you look faster than you were two or three years ago."
"Thanks," I said. "I hope that's true. But it sure doesn't feel it. I mean, it seems nothing works better than it did especially when it comes to athletics."
"Don't I know," he said. "I love to golf, but it's nowhere near as easy as it used to be, especially since I've had a bunch of back troubles."
"Specifically, how's that affect your golf?" I asked.
"Well, I'll tell you," he said, "I really can't swing like I used to."
"Makes sense," I said. "Sad story is I can't swing like I used to either."
A look of surprise crossed his face.
"I didn't think you ever played golf," he said.
"That's why it's a sad story," I said. "I don't."