Growing Old (or not): an adventurer’s thoughts

You might find me riding a horse in the Altai mountains of Mongolia (2011),

or a camel in the Gobi Desert (2011)

driving a dog team in the Yukon (2011)

or climbing Kilimanjaro (2010).

But if you met me in the grocery store you would see grey hair, wrinkles and a bit of a limp.  I’m old.  I have to get a doctor’s signature in order to renew my driver’s license.  No one asks to see my ID any more when offering a senior discount.

When I got my flu shot the other day the nurse said that I looked pretty spry.  Spry?  Spry is for old ladies who can cross a street without help.  I had just come from an hour-long workout with my personal trainer and was on my way to a riding lesson in preparation for a horse trek in Mexico this winter.  I’m a few years short of “spry”.

The years passed so quickly I never caught up.  Inside I’m  the young woman with the fresh face and lively step who paused and let me get ahead of her at the check-out line today.  Like her, I let seniors get ahead of me, open doors for them, give up my seat on the bus.  Because I can’t be a senior yet, can I?  I have friends who are seniors; they say the world is moving too fast for them. They don’t own computers or smart phones, don’t use digital cameras or iPods, don’t ride horses in Mongolia or blog about it.  And yet, I suspect that they, like me, have a self image that is far younger than what the world sees.

I’d like to think that aging is all in the mind.  As long as I’m planning and undertaking new adventures, learning new skills, studying new subjects, keeping up (more or less) with technology I’ll stay young.  But of course I won’t.  My body can’t do the things it did ten years ago, and ten years from now it will do even less.  And active as my mind is, I know that I will not produce the next great invention, start a revolution or solve any of the world’s great problems. That’s the role of youth, of those who do not yet know that not all things are possible.

When people say that youth is wasted on the young, I’m tempted to agree.  How wonderful it would be, I think, if my knowledge, experience and dreams could take root in a 20-year old body.  Then I reconsider; why should I dampen the enthusiasm, hubris and restless energy of youth with the “wisdom” of my years?  As an old woman I’m at ease with the world and myself.  I don’t suffer the pangs of unrequited love, don’t much care what others think of me, don’t wonder if I will succeed in a career, don’t feel like running for political office.  I’m comfortable.  Am I useless?  No, the world needs its elders just as much as it needs its young people.  I really don’t want to live in a society governed entirely by 20-year olds, but the world that’s now being run mostly by the “over 50s” isn’t doing very well either.

I know that my adventuring days are limited; one illness, one accident could end them even before the debilitation of age takes its inevitable toll.  So I make the most of the time I have, living in the moment, relishing every adventure, not worrying about the future.  I don’t see myself pushing a walker down the long dark corridors of a nursing home. With luck, I’ll keep going until I collapse on some high mountain trail, with sun on my face and the sounds of nature all around me.