Aging is cruel, but it beats the alternative

by Mick Rhodes |

Aging seems to happen slowly, then in big lurches; your hair starts losing its color, revealing the gray, and your belly starts to protrude. This goes on for some time until one day you wake up, your hair is white, and you’re shaped like a pear. There’s no warming up to it. It’s just here: your new body.

I had occasion to think on this recently when confronted with some recent photos. Who is that white-haired dude with the round face, looking like an overfed Ernest Hemingway impersonator? That’s me?

Well, okay then.

Talking about our changing bodies, faces, and hairlines consumes a surprising amount of airtime these days for me and my peers. It’s a development I didn’t anticipate. It seems like we went from, “Let’s meet for happy hour” to “How do you like your hearing aids?” overnight.

There was a time — let’s say from 20 to 45 or so — where I looked upon “inappropriately” dressed older folks out mixing it up with the younger set as sad, lonely people who couldn’t walk away from their youth. But nearing 60 I see I was mostly wrong about the “sad” part. I also see clearer that folks my age out at concerts, bars, or posting tipsy photos from tropical vacations, aren’t necessarily trying to hang on to their youth, they’re just letting it all hang out after putting in their time as parents, partners, workers, husbands, and wives. As I see it, they’ve earned the right to misbehave in any mostly legal way they see fit.

It’s not sad at all.

I can’t decide if it’s vanity or optimism that caused me to be taken aback by the recent photos of myself.

Maybe it’s both?

Certainly the ego wants to believe we look a certain way. That seems logical and not too catastrophically irrational.

But maybe there’s some optimism in there too. I have to hope so. After all, if the picture we carry in our minds of ourselves is a younger, more vibrant, less worn down version, then perhaps that image — inaccurate though it may be — helps propel us forward, still striving to do good work.

It’s interesting, this disconnect between our perception of ourselves and the actual product. It can be sobering to really look at the evidence of the miles and trauma on your own face and body. But it can be liberating as well. I mean, barring surgery and of course exercise and diet, this shell is just what we’re stuck with, and we best learn to love it, or at the very least accept it.

We all want to look good. Most of us go to varying degrees of extremes to get there, and sometimes spend untold fortunes to get somewhere close. ‘Twas ever thus I imagine. Once prehistoric humans mastered not being eaten by predators, learned to use tools, and decided a monthly dip in the river was a good idea, I imagine they did that most human thing and started fussing over their appearance. I’m picturing a Far Side panel now, “Thag, does combing my hair this way make my brow less protruding?”

Desirability is a powerful thing. Time works on all of us though, regardless of our interventions. I guess the best possible scenario is acceptance, no matter what gravity and genetics have in mind.

This can be difficult for regular folks like us, but especially, I imagine, if you’re in a public-facing profession like acting. In the past, I’d roll my eyes when the conversation turned to an actor or celebrity who had undergone a “procedure” to try and hang on to whatever ideal they had in mind. Lately though I’ve dismounted from my high horse and begun to put myself in their shoes; if my livelihood depended on a bankable face or body, who’s to say I wouldn’t do the same? My feeling now is I don’t know anyone’s life or what they’re going through, so I choose to be kind. Their choices don’t impact me, so why should I judge? And also, who cares what I think? They certainly don’t.

We all have quirks and obsessions, and sometimes as we age these previously hidden characteristics bubble up to the surface. Hell, I’ve certainly got bunches of unreasonable weirdnesses. Ask my wife. But I’m (hopefully) not hurting anyone with my tube amplifier fetish and multiple tics, quirks, and rituals.

Though it can be cruel, aging does have its benefits. One of my favorites is a two-parter:

One, I just don’t sit still for bullshit anymore. Getting to be a white-haired dude is convenient in that it gives you an excuse to walk away from ridiculousness. Who has time? I’m old! There was a time when I’d allow myself to be cornered by all manner of salespeople or narcissists intent on lecturing me about their lives and troubles. Nowadays I am liable to interrupt and ask for a summary, or even excuse myself altogether. It’s liberating having less time for the filler of life. I wish I’d availed myself to this superpower earlier.

Two, I care less and less about who’s doing what to whom. Do your thing, people. Honestly, what business is it of mine how you get your kicks? As long as you’re not hurting anyone, I say live your life.

And you look great in those leopard print pants, by the way.


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