Darrell King - Learning how to grow old

Two old guys sitting on a bench are talking about the past and the uncertainties of life. Finally, one turns to the other and says, “Well, there’s one thing I know for sure.”

“What’s that?” his friend asks.

“Neither of us is goin’ to die young.”

Therein lies one of life’s dilemmas: We’d prefer not to get old, but we really don’t want to die young.

There is a difference between aging and getting old. We age naturally, but we learn how to grow old. The learning starts early: hearing the deep sighs of the old as they sit or the groans when they stand, and the talk of memory loss or the things they can no longer do (including some they never did well, anyway). Lifelong personal failings can now be blamed on age.

An unspoken message, “That’s how it’s done,” forms a set of expectations that lie unnoticed until time triggers them and we become models for the next generation.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As a kid, I felt sorry for adults because they weren’t allowed to play with toys. Of course, adults do play with toys, just not the ones I enjoyed. With time, the new takes the place of the old. That’s part of aging. It does not mean denying the aches and pains; it means not making them who you are. It also means accepting the loss of some things, along with the gain of others.

I enjoy watching my kids change as they sort out what it means to be them in this time in history. I can’t tell them how to do that because their world is almost unrecognizably different from the one in which I started my life. I can cheer them on and tell them they will make it, because I did.

Not long ago, I went to the bank to make my mandatory IRA withdrawal. On the form I saw the phrase, “expected longevity 20 years.” Forty years ago, that would have freaked me out. At my present age, that’s good news, indeed. I guess, however, that being a nonagenarian isn’t really at the top of my bucket list.

The later years offer an opportunity to reflect, sort and generally come to an understanding and acceptance of what life is about, things I was too busy to think about a decade or two past. You may ask, “What’s the point of all that wisdom at the end of your life?” Well, first of all, I’m not at the end of my life; 20 more years, remember? I believe my age and those insights give me peace of mind and “street cred” when I talk to my kids. Going gray can do that.

Older people need to resist buying into the young view of age. We’ve earned our wrinkles and thinning hair. When the young make jokes about the old, they ignore the fact that, if they’re lucky, one day they’ll be there, too.

Talk among the old about the “good old days” is just as bad. Think about it: world war, cold war, McCarthyism, recession, stagflation, flu pandemic, Kent State, flag burning, assassinations, race riots, Iran-Contra.

For my generation, those things were as frightening as 9-11 and al-Qaida are today.

At times, I don’t know what day it is. Am I senile? No. Tracking the days of the week is no longer important to me. And I’m choosy about the gifts I receive. I want something I can eat, use up or wear out, not store and will to my kids.

This is my take on getting older. No doubt, some find it a trial, even a burden. But trite as it sounds, I do believe that aging is a state of the body, but getting old is a state of mind.

Guest writer Darrell King, For 12 years Darrell worked as a jobs and guidance counselor for the (then) Yamhill Education Service District and for six of those years wrote a weekly jobs column for the News-Register. He helped start the Habitat ReStore, and conducted community mediations with Your Community Mediators. Darrell is now retired and devoting full time to his hobbies, writing and thinking.


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