July 4th marks America's birthday and depending on which day if falls on it could form a long weekend holiday to rest, party, and visit family. For me it is generally the time of year that I set out for my annual pilgrimage to visit my grandmother who resides in a nursing home in Northern Virginia. As luck had it a number of other family members also made the trek this year and it became a reunion of sorts that made her real happy. My grandmother always loved life, she was one of those types that could never part with youth. Even in her advanced age, she would color her hair jet black, wore youthful garments and avoided any talk of aging. Then about eight years ago, she had a stroke, became half paralyzed, and lost her speech coordination. Thankfully her cognitive and reasoning abilities remained intact. She still recognizes everyone and her memory is as sharp as ever. But gone are her black hair, her fashionably young clothes, and her independence. After all these years, it is still a sad to see her in this condition, although we're still thankful that she's around.
If you have ever been in a nursing home, you know that it has a strange effect on the visitors. Amidst the odor of antiseptics and other geriatric medicines, there are people that you know are just mere shells of what they used to be. Some are more mobile, others are completely helpless, but you can't help but think that this is their last stop on the way to the other side. So many lives, adventures, and ambitions culminated in their frail conditions, just waiting for their turns to make their final trips.
As we were waiting outside her room, my aunt's husband and I engaged in a conversation about aging. As we discussed our own ages (him being 60 and me, almost 40), he turned to me, while pointing to his heart, and said: "age is just the number. What counts is how old your heart feels". Out of respect I nodded my head in agreement. I've certainly heard that phrase before and I've tried to find a way to see its wisdom, but somehow I keep missing it. Perhaps there is no wisdom there, just wishful thinking.
If aging were just an unimportant number, why do so many of us strive to stay as young as possible, as long as possible? Why do we spend time and money to defy aging. The truth perhaps, in plain terms, is that aging sucks. True that with age comes a certain amount of wisdom and experience, but I would trade those off in a second for youth. I know most people would disagree with that brutally honest statement, but ask that of any 90-year old suffering the throes of senility, and I'm sure he or she would agree.
As we grow older we lose our physical and mental agility, we lose our resilience, we lose our dreams, and we lose the time to achieve those lofty goals in our bags of aspirations. I sometimes look at my kids and envy them for having their whole lives ahead of them. They could be anything they want to be. Can a 90-year-old say that?
In case you're wondering, I have no complaints with my life. I love my career, have a great family, and I feel just fine, mentally and physically. I have already done many things that I wanted to do in my life, and there's still time to check off a few more items on the list. In the end the debate on aging is a moot subject. All we can do is to make the best of any stage of life. Perhaps that's the most appropriate interpretation of that phrase.