Saturday, December 8, 2012

Growing Old On My Terms

Growing Old On My Terms By Margaret Guthrie, Cross-posted from Metropolis

One of the things that happens when you pass 75 -- and I am not talking about speed limits here -- is that you realize you could drop dead at any time. Dropping dead at any moment becomes much more real than it was at 30 or at 50 or even in your sixties and early 70s. As Dustin Hoffman once said, "The end is definitely in sight." As you pass through life, you might give occasional thought to your removal from the planet, to your participation in the recycling of all physical substance, but it doesn't occupy the forefront of your thoughts. The trick, when you're officially elderly, is to not let it occupy the forefront now.

Society doesn't help. Television is full of ads designed to scare old people into doing things that might not be in their best interest. For instance, there are those over-55 communities, which are basically beached cruise ships for the elderly. These places are full of organized activities like arts and crafts and high-school shop for the elderly and dining with 70 or so of your best friends, all of you basically ghetto-ized and awaiting the grim reaper, while you play bridge. Frankly, the idea of learning all over again how to make a magazine rack or napkin holder doesn't appeal to me. Plus, as I understand it, they have rules, like having to get permission to have your grandchildren visit you because they're under 55 years of age. Really?

I live on a block that has two young residents under the age of one, and a gentleman across the street from me who is in his 80s, lives alone, drives his own car and seems to be in fine shape. I believe he still plays the organ at his church on Sundays. There is a young woman next door to me in her junior year at St. Joseph's University, and next door to her is a young woman in her last year at Girls High whose sights are set on Howard University. Various parents, grandparents and others of all ages also live on my block. It's a microcosm of life in the city, and I would not miss it for all the "security" of living in a community where everything is taken care of for me. Sure, I have to rake leaves, shovel snow and haul the recycling out to the curb, but that keeps me moving. One thing you do learn about being old is how important it is to keep moving.

And then there are the ads for various drugs designed to ease or erase the physical effects of aging. The list of side effects can be nothing short of terrifying. I don't now and have never regarded either tuberculosis or death as a side effect. At this moment there is an epidemic of fungal meningitis loose among us, the result of careless manufacture of a steroid injection designed to ease back pain and related ills, as I understand it from the media. Is our medical system really out to help us, or is their only purpose their own enrichment at the possible expense of our lives? My own doctor told me it's his goal to keep me out of the hospital; I assured him it's a goal we share. My ultimate goal in this particular part of my life is to just go to sleep one night and not wake up -- but not for a while, please.

If my knees hurt, I'm supposed to let a surgeon who specializes in such things remove my knees and replace them with some mechanical device attached to the bones in my leg. No thank you. I would like to go into the recycling bin with as much of my own parts as I possibly can. I already have enough bridges in my mouth to make me competitive with Manhattan, and several years ago I had cataract surgery to replace the lenses of both eyes. I would like very much to hang onto the rest of me, as I figure at a maximum I have another 15 years. The more of actual me there is, the more I can enjoy the time that is left.

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