Though I’ve been certifiably old for at least eleven years now—ever since turning 65—I still resist identifying myself as old. This may be partly because I’ve always thought of myself as a student of life. My mindset has been that a young person in an enduring state of learning about the mysteries and challenges that life offers. I’ve always felt I was in a state of preparation for achieving, in some far distant time, a fund of wisdom that would equip me at last to comprehend and deal effectively with life’s ultimate meaning. Well, that time has long since arrived, but the wisdom I hoped for has not. I’m as bewildered as ever. And my bewilderment is worsened by the cognitive impairments that inevitably have begun to erode my mental focus. Recently I was told by an eldercare physician (yes, I have one) that I should no longer be driving a car as I have confidently done since I was 16. The reason: I could be liable for any damages I may inflict. So I’m not only old, I’m a public menace.
All this clashes violently with my deepest sense of myself. As I’m sure is true of all old people, I feel I’ve retained, and indeed refined, all my intellectual powers, even if my physical skills may have declined a bit. I continue to read; my curiosity is undiminished; my ambition to write and to excel in my writing rages on; I’m eager to learn; and believe it or not, I still retain a sex drive. But I can’t deny that, in not only a bodily sense but in a mental one, I feel old. I tire easily. My mind sometimes slips and slides; I’m forgetful. Multitasking was never my strong suit; now it’s nearly impossible. And, most dire of all, I have begun thinking of myself in the past tense.
That means, of course, that I’ve been toting up my accomplishments and measuring those against the ambitions I’ve had for myself. The resulting ratio isn’t an encouraging one, especially when one realizes that very little of the future remains. The future was always a refuge for the aspirations one had nursed; now that refuge is nearly gone.
So what does one do when his sense of himself remains hopelessly adolescent yet insufficient time remains for the acquisition of wisdom? It is an eerie dilemma, one that I never expected to confront. I wonder if I have misspent my life, dwelling always in the present with little thought for the long term. It seems a pity to imagine myself dying in a fiery automobile crash due to dementia, perhaps injuring or, heaven forbid, killing someone else (not to mention incurring the dreaded liability), when I might have lived on to an advanced age and perhaps even acquired some honors, if only I had planned better. Well, the answer is, inevitably, that one has done what one has done, not what one would have liked to have done. One has not planned sufficiently for the future. One has lived the life that one has lived, none other.