How old is old?
Herald Mail Media
I never had much use for the United Nations until now. Because, according to this esteemed organization, I am not old. Yet.
According to Steven Petrow, writing in The Washington Post, the United Nations defines old age as beginning at 60. The difficulty, Petrow notes, is that the United Nations assigns the designation of old age based on how many years you have lived, not how many you have to go. So if you’re 60, you are considered old whether your life expectancy is 65 or 165. Therefore, he says, 60 is not a very good gauge.
Makes sense. Although frankly, that sounds like an argument an old man would make.
“I will soon turn 62,” he writes. “What does that actually tell you? Not very much, which is why, like many of my sexagenarian friends, I’m apt to claim, ‘Yes, age is just a number.’”
Actually, that’s how you tell if you’re old. If you start throwing around phrases like “age is just a number,” “you’re only as old as you feel” or “60 is the new 40,” a buzzer should go off and your forehead should start flashing OLD OLD OLD.
I really hate that last one, it’s so stupid. What did they say in the Middle Ages, “26 is ye new 12?”
I acknowledge that there are people age 60 who are a wreck, and people 10 years older who could leave people half their age in the dust. But that’s the product of good genes. It’s not because of a mathematical mind game.
Overall, I don’t understand what the problem is with admitting you are old. There are certain cruelties of old age — by the time you are old enough to afford a sports car, you are too old to get in and out of it — but there are also benefits.
Over the weekend, a young woman at the garden center carried a bag of potting soil to the car for me. That didn’t make me feel old. What made me feel old was that I let her.
The U.S. women’s soccer team makes me feel old in kind of an odd way. It’s not so much that I didn’t grow up with soccer and find it boring. It’s not that they run up the score or celebrate each goal as if they’ve just been released after 40 years in a Turkish prison.
When I was younger, any one of the three would fire some sort of passion one way or another. Today, none of it seems to matter. It’s the James McMurtry line: “I’m forty-some years old now and man I don’t care/all I want now is just a comfortable chair.”
Petrow quotes experts as calculating that old age begins “when your specific life expectancy is 15 years or less. That is when most people will start to exhibit the signs of aging, which is to say when quality of life takes a turn for the worse.”
So it’s like when they assign you your own parking space at the podiatrist. And it’s when the number of pills you take each day exceeds your average mph as you’re driving to the podiatrist.
Speaking of which, there’s an equally insidious and depressing way of knowing when you’re old that has nothing to do with the United Nations: It’s when the television shows you watch are sponsored wall-to-wall by medications and the makers of back braces.
It does explain something though. I saw an ad for a drug whose potential side effects included a “fatal brain infection.” I didn’t catch what it was this medicine was supposed to be able to cure, but I’d have to be pretty miserable before I risked my dome filling up with pus.
But if you’re in the red zone of your life, what’s a little brain infection as long as you’re regular?
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