Only the lucky find out how difficult it is to age

Contributing WriterJune 2, 2014 

I am immortal. I was immortal. I am a mortal.

The first two sentences just about summed up my sentiments about life and living for a long time. The last sentence, while a basic fact, was never a concern nor a subject of a sentiment. Until fairly recently.

I had the classic sensibility (or on occasion, senselessness) of the young: No bullet can touch me, no harm can hurt me. Danger was just another word for excitement. Death was a possibility so remote that it was easy to disregard.

Out with friends on the water on a stormy day without a real swimming skill, I ignored the waves and the howling winds. I was confident that the waves would propel us right back on to the sandy beach, laughing like the clueless high school graduates that we were.

There was no regard for riptide or how easy it was to drown. No fear. Death may have come in the form of a wave, but it was a remote idea and not a reality. Powerful waves turned that limber body upside down, yet still relaxed and exuberant, I dared the world’s biggest ocean to test me and show me its power.

The sheer physicality of the danger, the incomparable difference between the ocean’s waves and my pulsating blood served only to loudly proclaim, “I am indestructible.”

I howled at the wind when I was above the water, I took a few drinks when I was under the water, I went where the waves took me, and by god, I hollered at the lord of the seas and the lady of the wind, “This is my ocean, that is my beach, take me back to shore.” And they relented. I was indestructible.

To feel fully alive is to be immortal. That is the gift of youth. That old fart who said “youth is wasted on the young” must have seriously needed to get a life.

And then there is time. Time was when I could not wait for it. I could not wait for anything. I did not wait for it. Time has marched on. It marches on. The blasted thing still marches on. I turned 27 many times, and 32 a few times.

I should probably turn 37 again. And again. It’s a good age when you’re not young and you’re not old. You cannot, without good cause, be accused of being stupid. Plus, you can claim, with some credibility, to have a little bit of wisdom.

I used to roll my eyes whenever older people told me that time flies. Nowadays I find myself saying it. I prefer its Latin version, tempus fugit. Time flees, it escapes. It can elude us, rule us or just be, no matter what we do.

I have said it, confounded, like I have never heard it before, like it’s a truth that only I have discovered.

And blasted youth, I have seen young eyes roll at my profundities. And so time, which has taught me some patience, has also shown me some ironies.

At this point, immortality has become more of a concept than a feeling. Mortality then asserts itself until we can no longer ignore it. It first hits in small ways like the question of a child from a news report, raising the stump of his arm on account of an exploded land mine. “Will my hand ever grow back?”

Then it will hit us directly and personally. The problem with growing is growing old. Time will press its marks on our bodies: failing eyesight, wrinkles on our skin, greying hair, the loss of strength, a fading memory.

These will expose our vulnerabilities and test the indestructibility of our spirit.

Time ages us in so many ways that we may not necessarily elect. Aging will show us that our bodies and our minds are destructible.

What do we do when we can barely feed ourselves? Who will we be when we can hardly remember who we were? Is it worth waiting for that visitor who will remind us of who we were, what we have done, how we loved, how we were loved, and how else we can be? Would we still be loved and would we know its constancy? Is this the time when we invent an immortal, all-powerful and all-knowing being who might protect us from this torture?

The adventures that the young seek out may entail some bravery, but the mere process of getting old requires real courage. Aging should not be for the old, but that is not how the cookie crumbles.

Isabel de la Torre of Parkland, an environmentalist and trained but non-practicing lawyer and journalist, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at tribune@isabeldelatorre.org.

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