How do you know when you’re officially “old”?
Every morning I look in the mirror and realize that I’m not the same guy I was 20 years ago, but I’m still unsure when I’ll cross the line to old age — or if I’ve already crossed it.
I started giving serious thought to this question when I turned 58 at the end of April. It’s not a number I would generally associate with old age, but it does put me precariously close to 60 — and I’m still trying to process how I feel about approaching that milestone.
I’m heartened by the fact that several people have told me I don’t look my age. One person even told me I looked to be in my mid-40s. Of course, he’s a waiter and might have been jockeying for a big tip.
Still, my thinning and graying hair, under-eye bags and increasingly jowly jaw line remind me that my 40s have been in my rear-view mirror for quite some time.
The other day, I saw a photo of a man who had a round face, squinty eyes and bushy white beard. Without knowing, I would have guessed him to be around 70. But I was blown away when I read that he was still a few months shy of 61 — less than three years older than I am.
But for every ego-boosting experience like that, I have others that bring me down a peg.
The other day, my wife told me that her office assistant was having a birthday this week. She was turning 19. At first, I didn’t think much about it, until I started doing the math. I realized that I was three times as old as her assistant — with a year to spare.
It’s one thing to be twice as old as someone. I’m used to that, with all the young journalists we’ve hired at the Herald over the years. But when you’re three times as old as someone in the workforce, that really gives you pause.
So, is it possible that I’ve already passed over into “oldster” status?
After all, I’ve been receiving AARP solicitations for the better part of a decade. I’ve been eligible for the senior menu at IHOP for more than three years. And I can’t tell you the last time someone asked for my I.D. when I was buying alcohol.
I can remember what it was like to use a typewriter, listen to an 8-track tape, watch a black-and-white TV, dial a rotary phone and drive a ’67 Volkswagen Beetle. Does all that make me old?
I’m sure I come across to some younger folks as a geezer when I start making cultural references from my childhood. And when you think about it, we children of the late 1950s and ’60s witnessed a lot growing up. I was alive for the first manned spaceflight as well as the first moon landing; the Beatles’ arrival in America; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King; the invention of communications satellites, color TV, personal computers and the Internet.
I’ve been alive during the administrations of 11 U.S. presidents.
OK, now I’m starting to feel old.
But as I was telling a much younger co-worker the other day, most of the time I don’t feel much different than I did back when I was in my 40s. I’m blessed to be in good health, with no nagging problems like backaches or arthritis.
I know it’s a cliche, but you are as old as you feel. And as my co-worker acknowledged, it’s how old you act that matters, too. That’s good to know, since I’ve always believed that.
Still, I’d rather not be known as “that old guy who keeps acting like a teenage goofball.”
That’s not exactly aging gracefully. And isn’t that what we’re all shooting for?