The Universal Notebook: "I grow old, I grow old …"

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From my sunny, smiling, youthful face, I’m sure you find it hard to believe, dear readers, that your host for these weekly sessions of truth-telling, breast-beating, smoke-blowing and story-telling is sixty-six years old.

I can hardly believe it myself. I spell out the number because I can’t quite bring myself to type the mournful numerals.

Seems like only yesterday, I was an amped-up, skirt-chasing know-it-all of 16. Suddenly, I’m an old fart. My first Social Security check was posted yesterday. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

On the one hand, I suppose that after 40-plus years of paying into the system, I am entitled to a little payday. But I have this nagging feeling that I should not be taking taxpayers’ money.

After all, as Gov. LePage so grumpily explained during his re-election campaign, Social Security is a form of welfare and I am not really in need of public assistance … not yet anyway. The time may well come, however. And in the meantime, it does my heart good to know I am dining out on tea-party tax dollars.

According to the life-expectancy calculator on the Social Security Administration website, barring the unforeseen, I can reasonably expect to live another 18.5 years to the ripe old age of 84.6. Not bad, considering the life expectancy of an American male is now about 77 years. When I was born in 1949, it was only about 68. So I figure I’m somewhere between seven and 16 years to the good.

My mother was 90 when she died and my father was 89, so I may get an additional five year grace period, from my actuarial life expectancy of 84 to my genetic inheritance of 89. At that rate, I should expect to expire sometime in 2039.

In any event, I’m a lot closer to 2039 than I am to 1949, the year I was born. I’m a bit ambivalent about that as well.

My contemporaries tend to fall into two distinct camps, three if you count those who have already expired. There are those of us who are feeling our age and those who apparently aren’t.

Some days I think it’s just a matter of acceptance and denial. Others I think it comes down to the physical and mental. There are days I just want to call it quits, slip off slowly into comfortable oblivion. Others I’ve got places to go, things to do and not enough time to get it all done.

When I say acceptance and denial, I’m talking about attitude. Attitude is everything. I have contemporaries who have just gotten married, had children, started new businesses, found new interests and directions. That’s wonderfully hopeful and optimistic. But I do sometimes wonder about guys my age who still think they’re what’s happening and refuse to get out of the passing lane.

The physical-mental thing is more about aptitude. There are days, for example, when it’s unexpectedly hard to put on my socks. Part stiffness, part thickness. I used to be able to throw a baseball or a snowball with surprising accuracy, but my right shoulder is now all afloat so the best I can manage is an ineffectual lob.

I sometimes struggle to remember words and names, to recall what it was I came in here to do, what I did yesterday. I am not senile, just forgetful. I am given to daydreaming – T.S. Eliot’s “dull head among windy spaces.” I can rally to the wit and wisecracks of my youth, but sometimes I prefer the wisdom of silence.

Having watched my parents slip away last year and the year before, I imagine those extra years I may have inherited from them will involve declining health, loss of memory and increasing financial instability. My father worked hard all his life, but he outlived his retirement and his savings. When all the final arrangements were paid for, my parents left $700 – enough to give each grandchild a hundred bucks to spend in memory of Grammy and Grampy.

Now I am Grampy.

When I was a smooth-faced 17-year-old, my high-school girlfriend gave me a picture of an old man with a grizzled beard and white hair. She told me she thought that’s what I would look like when I got old. She’s long gone, but I thought of her this morning when I caught a glimpse of that old man, in the mirror.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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