Here are some things I’ve discovered/realized now that I’m way past the initial AARP enrollment age (50 years old). To the uninitiated, the American Association of Retired Persons is one of the biggest, most influential nonprofits in the US. It has clout and muscle when it comes to Congress trying to stiff the elderly; you want it to be on your side fighting for your interests always. And it’s also the quintessential Big Brother – whoever turns 50 in the US will get an invitation to sign up. Don’t ask me how it accurately marks your golden year better than your mother.
Back to my list of the finer points of aging which you’ll never know until you’re actually there:
Your 50s are the best years of your life. I should add a caveat -- unless you’re fighting a serious ailment. If you’re healthy and active then you can go to town with your age, the fruits of your hard work (keeping healthy) and your luck (in dodging the sickness bullet). Freed from having little children to take care of, from having to think about birth control, from having to prove yourself in job and marriage, and, for many, freed from an unhealthy relationship (according to AARP, more people in their 50s are divorcing), you’re free to enjoy your freedom and your sexuality to the fullest. The Hallmark cards have it wrong; you’re not over the hill at 40; you’re still peaking at 50.
You get to your 60s and it’s a different story. Even if your blood numbers still proclaim you healthy and ailment-free, you won’t be able to deny the physical deterioration, the pace of which depends on how much you abused your body when you were younger. This is the decade when your body takes its revenge – marathoners have shattered knees, swimmers get back spurs, smokers begin their slow descent to emphysema. Women who teetered in stilettos in their youth get hammer toes and bunions and whatever else their long-abused feet fight back with. The list goes on so if you’re young and reading this – keep this in mind before you abuse your body any further. Especially if your eardrums are constantly getting a whacking from those earbuds. Hearing is often the first to go.
Your body often feels like a stranger. You now have allergies and other sensitivities to various stimulants when you never had any. Your sleep patterns go awry. The process of digestion can take several, unsavory forms. Stairs are no longer your friends. Sex starts becoming an inconvenience rather than a necessary part of living (anyone in their 60s or 70s who deny this is a liar).
Your list of necessities changes. No more tampons, birth control pills, condoms and hair gels, yehey! Instead, you’re in the market for: comfort shoes (lightweight, flexible and with good shock absorber), big undies (bikinis and thongs tend to roll under your flabby tummy), gartered pants, loose shirts, very dark tinted sunglasses (to slow down the cataracts), pill boxes, lightweight purses (pity your shoulders if you carry heavy stuff!), statins, Viagra and the like, KY jellies, hair restoration concoctions, blood thinners, anti-aging creams, travel insurance (in case something happens and you have to cancel flights). Again the list goes on.
You see things you never noticed before. Like how a relationship will pan out even if it just started. You’ve witnessed too many, read too much, watched enough teleserye and movies, heard too many sob stories, experienced enough heartaches that you can predict any ending or any happily-ever-aftering better than any mental health professional. Here’s a confession: I get teary-eyed at weddings because I see the rough patches the couple will still have to endure, and my heart goes out to them. Cynical? No, just being realistic.
Remembering and forgetting often drives you crazy. Yes, you remember very vividly how you felt when Kennedy (or Martin Luther King, or Robert Kennedy or Ninoy Aquino or your friends who turned revolutionaries) died, when your first love turned to ashes, the solar eclipse of 1955, the excitement of the first stirrings of life within you when you were pregnant with your first child, products like Serg’s chocolate and ChocoVim, awful medicines like Paregoric, castor oil, mercurochrome and Numotizine (which is still available, by the way). The joys, smells and colors of your childhood bring smiles in inadvertent situations. And there are long-standing fears that are so seared in your memory that they remain vivid (like martial law). But being asked what you did yesterday or what you ate this morning can bring a momentary blank in your brain, a senior moment. Worse, you can’t even introduce the person beside you to someone because you can’t remember her name. Even if she’s your best friend.
You’re done with chasing windmills. You’ve given the world (your country, your causes, your passions) your best efforts and it’s now time to calm down and allow the next generation to take over. Yes, you can still be counted on to join a rally or to sign petitions. You still believe in making a difference but for the most part, your contribution is more benign – giving money, posting on social media, giving advice. You have come to accept that the world will go on, even without your intervention and you can stand back and appreciate the forest without getting entangled in the trees.
You get more sentimental as you add years. I remember being annoyed whenever we said goodbye to our parents after brief visits. My father would always say, this might be the last time we’ll see each other. Of course it took them a long time to fulfill that prediction. Now I find myself thinking the same way. Visits from our children always end in heart-wrenching goodbyes, which for the most part I’m still able to hide. But then I’m still in my 60s. It could be a different story in my 70s.
It’s so easy to turn into a curmudgeon if you don’t watch out. Impatience, losing the ability to suffer fools, being no longer afraid to say what’s on your mind – some of the hallmarks – and benefits -- of aging.
Older doesn’t always mean wiser. Loneliness and vulnerabilities are issues that know no term limits. AARP says the elderly is ground zero for scammers. Just because you’ve lived through so much doesn’t mean you’re immune to sweet talk, fake news and seeing stars when there are only storm clouds. So be careful.
Mortality is no longer theoretical. Almost every day you hear news of someone you know dying or stricken with serious illnesses. Waking up each morning is an exercise in gratitude. Because you’re always conscious of the ticking of the clock, you no longer waste time. You add to your frequent fliers miles, you surround yourself with books and music that make you happy, indulge yourself in food and drink (but in moderation so as not to hasten the process), and try to spend as much time with the people you love, even as you tire quicker and take bathroom breaks more frequently. This mortality thing makes you more appreciative of life, doesn’t it?
Everyone seems to be younger than you. The old guy at the corner with a cane, the woman at the counter who looks so weathered, the bald person with a raspy voice – they all must be at least five years older than you. Well, chances are they’re your age or even younger. The current crop of thought leaders, celebrities, authors, artists – younger. Only the presidents of the Philippines and the US are older, and look at how they are. It’s never too late to aspire to be better and they are two of the best [negative] examples to motivate you to do just that.