Recently, my sister and her family visited me for five days. Among the 10 of us, we had an age spread from 12 to 70.
As we juggled different interests, energy levels, and locomotion speeds through the museums, walking tours, and road trips, I thought about aging.
I’m 54. I’ll spare you the, “Inside every old person is a young person screaming, ‘How the hell did this happen?'” commentary. All the generalizations are true, even when they conflict: You are only as young as you feel. Youth is wasted on the young. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Etc.
I must be moving, talking, and thinking slower than when I was 20 years old. I can’t feel it, I don’t have any proof. But all available data says it must be the case. Because my brain is changing over time, my consciousness is changing, and so my ability to know myself and how I’m changing, is changing.
I’m the oldest person in my company’s engineering team. (Eh…. wait one goddamn minute, I’m the oldest person in my entire company! How the hell did this happen?) When I speak, do others mentally tap their feet waiting for me to get to the point?
Do I repeat myself more than they do? When is it appropriate to give the context of a statement, vs. just saying it?
I think I think through problems as fast as any of my colleagues. Ah, but I’m using my degraded consciousness to evaluate my consciousness. So maybe I’m wrong. No friend would tell me that I’m slowing down. Most of my friends are within 10 years of my age, so who’d know?
My colleague Elliott suggests that technical work and solving new problems keeps the mind agile. I’ve heard that before, and many studies to support it. Fortunately, I’m in a career that stresses mental flexibility and processing, and that should help me stay mentally young. Ah, but retarding degradation is not the same as preventing degradation. I’m getting slower and dumber with age and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I don’t want to die. A close second is, I don’t want to age. But I’m aging. My only choice is to accept it, but I don’t want to go quietly into the dusk.