New year, old me: recently I visited a professor from my undergraduate years. We had breakfast in the university's student center cafeteria, then he showed me around the brand new humanities building. It was a really nice visit, but guess what? He's older now than when he was my teacher. Me, too.
I've been thinking about age for awhile now. I've never had any anxiety about my birthdays--not any of the milestone ones, for instance, thirty or forty. Maybe because I was never athletic nor have I ever considered myself a beauty, I haven't thought much about decay or decline--I've never had such an exalted sense of myself (perhaps I've been vain about my mind, but then there's that amazing dearth of self-discipline and follow-through to temper the vanity).
On the weekend, the day before her birthday, my small, breakable mother fell, caught herself with her hand, and broke her wrist. My aged grandmother, whom I visited today, has broken all sorts of parts. On the whole, I've been remarkably healthy all my life. I've had a bunch of kids, all without incident, never had surgery or any major illness (sometimes I have to exaggerate a cold just to get a day off). But if my mom's getting old, if my grandmother is demonstrably old, if I have a child who has a child, then hey, I'm clearly not getting any younger myself.
My grandma is ninety-one and in the kind of health that keeps her here, but just barely. The last of her generation just died a week or so ago. My dad and my aunt visit her devotedly, one of my cousins and I go fairly often, but in lots of ways she'd rather be gone. "I want to go home," she told me last week when I went to see her at the care center where she stays. It's a common but sad story. I've told my kids to put something slippery on the floor when I get to that point. My youngest son pointed out that falling might not kill me, and suggested poison. Clever lad, that one.
I don't really want to die before I get old. What I want is to get old but stay healthy and self-sufficient and witty and in full possession of my faculties (which I reminded my son, in case he decided to slip me the mickey before I was ready). I don't want eternal youth. I just don't want to live so long that I'm waiting around to die.