Wissot: Please don’t call me 72 years young (column)
There are many things true about being 72 years of age. I can say, for example, that I have been a member of AARP for 22 years now; that there is not an age criteria for senior discounts that I cannot meet; that I am never asked for proof before being served alcohol; that being completely invisible to millennials has become commonplace; and that if I am getting better with age, nobody has informed my body yet. What isn’t true is that I am 72 years young.
I cringe when I hear an oldster beam about being “blah, blah young.” What for heaven’s sake is young about being a septuagenarian or octogenarian? Wise, perhaps. Experienced, OK. Seasoned, yes, of course. But young? We don’t refer to 2 or 3-year-olds as being two or three years young. If toddlers aren’t considered years young, then how is it possible for someone 25 times or more their age to be years young?
I’m not claiming it’s wrong. I’m claiming it’s silly.
Why are we so enamored with youth that we feel compelled to distort the visible realities of aging? I may look good for my age (I don’t happen to think so), but I don’t look good for age 45 or 50 or 60. Trust me, I know. I have photos of what I looked like when I was that old, and I really don’t look that young and vibrant now. My hair was thicker, my face fuller, my skin smoother. Pictures don’t lie. People lie. Lie to themselves about how old they look.
If others my age choose to chase after the fountain of youth, then that is fine with me. Go for it. I’m not opposed to plastic surgery, although I’m inclined to agree with Julianne Moore when she said, “Plastic surgery doesn’t make you look younger; it makes you look like you had plastic surgery” (Huffington Post; Dec. 19, 2013). I just think it is a form of self-deception to think that you are cheating Father Time by resorting to cosmetic camouflage. Looking good for your age is perfectly reasonable. Believing that you are looking good for an age you no longer are is not.
I can tell I look my age when I tell someone how old I am and they respond with a facial look that says, “Yep, that seems about right.” Occasionally, out of kindness I am sure, someone will demur and claim they thought I was younger. Thankfully, I have never suffered through the embarrassment contestants on the old Groucho Marx television show “You Bet Your Life” had to endure when he told some proud 82-year-old that he looked 94.
The trade-off frequently offered for the vicissitudes of aging is that you are growing wiser.
Well, sure, but is that really such a surprise? Am I really growing in wisdom, or is it that I was so dumb when I was younger that anything would have been an improvement? Even if I am wiser, is that really a worthy consolation for being older? Here I tend to side with 80-year-old Judi Dench who said, “I’d rather be younger and not know so much” (UK Express; March 7, 2015).
Self-deception is a human art form. I practice it. You practice it. In many instances, it is harmless, as when we look in the mirror and lie to ourselves about being thinner or taller or handsomer than we really are (my wife tells me women are far more self critical than men when they look in the mirror, and I see no reason to doubt her).
Who cares? Go ahead and knock yourself out. But as the days of our lives grow shorter, as is surely the case with me, a gut-driven reality check is needed. I can’t imagine my own death because when I do, I am always conscious of still being alive. I only understand death in the abstract — all the more reason not to kid ourselves about how old we really are.
I hope to continue to enjoy life for as long as I can. I plan to live the remainder of my life as if it was never going to end, even though I know, of course, it will. But I will do it as someone who is 72 years old, not 72 years young. Looking old is fine when you are as old as I am. I don’t want to be or look 45 anymore. I’ve had my shot at that age slot.
Let somebody else enjoy it. Be my guest. Have your fun. I had it for a time. Now it’s your turn.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.