Wide Awake: Year After Year
Realizing I just keep getting older

I happened to watch about 30 minutes of the MTV Music Video Awards last month. I wasn’t shocked when I didn’t know most of the performers, but I was surprised at how appalled I was by how some of them dressed and danced and talked. You know, like how that Elvis used to shake his hips.

This has been happening ever since I turned 50 (which was 7 years ago). Two weeks after that significant birthday, I had an abscessed tooth. I didn’t even know what an abscessed tooth was until I experienced the unbearable pain. I said to Joe, “I’m 50, I guess everything goes downhill from here.” I thought I was joking.

I have discovered that was not a joke. Nope, not funny at all. Aging isn’t funny, or fun. I would describe it as difficult and shocking and painful, both physically and emotionally. I’m only starting to come to terms with the fact that certain things happen when you’re old, and you can’t stop them. Parts of your body may creak, tighten, ache or downright hurt. You forget things. You need your glasses more often. Your balance seems off. You want to go to bed earlier and earlier. Alcohol affects your body in very different ways. Professionals you hire look like they’re 12. And overall, the modern way of doing things often seems exhausting and sometimes pointless.

Even as I write all that, I look at it and think, exactly how old am I?

Like you, I was always young. And in all those years, I never considered what it would be like when I was old. It’s like I didn’t think it would happen. That’s a mistake, because part of the difficulty I’ve been having is my astonishment at all the changes. You think you’re not that old, but then your body or your mind or even your point of view reminds you that yes, you actually are. And there’s little you can do about it.

At the end of the summer, the girls, Joe and I rented a house in Ocean City. We haven’t had a Shore vacation like this since the girls were little, but after a pandemic, it was the perfect spot for a getaway. We planned to go to Uncle Bill’s for apple pancakes, spend all day on the beach and hit the Boardwalk to go on rides. It would be an easy, happy week for our whole family.

Then I bent over and reached for my computer charger.

It was Tuesday morning, so only 3 days into the vacation, and I felt an excruciating pain in my low back. I hit the floor and knew I wasn’t getting up. I was familiar with this because it used to happen to my dad. We would say my dad’s “back went out.” I slid myself over to where my phone was and texted Joe to come find me. I spent the entire day in bed because I couldn’t move. I spent the next day laying on the couch. I never went to the beach again. On Wednesday night, we went out to dinner in Atlantic City, and while I did have to get up and walk around every 20 minutes or so, I kept saying, “I’m so happy to be here.”

It was a turning point for me. I accepted that I’m not as young as I once was. I’m aging, and sometimes not-so-good things will happen that never happened before. I can take some steps to build my strength – like sleeping enough, working out and taking vitamins – but my body will continue to age. It’s just how it goes.

Before my Grandpop Klein died, he lived with my parents for a few months. I remember he would complain about how cold the dishes were. Every time he went to get something to eat or a glass of water, he would open the cabinet door and get so angry at how cold the plate or cup was. It was an odd complaint – nothing else was cold, just the dishes. And he seemed so hopelessly frustrated. I wonder if he knew that whatever he was feeling had more to do with his aging body and less to do with the temperature inside the cabinets.

Of course, if Grandpop Klein could read this column, he would tell me not to worry about aging. I actually heard him say that many, many times. “The alternative is much worse,” he would quip. And he’s right. Because while I’m struggling with all the changes, I’m so happy to be here.

October 2021
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